Tube strikes go ahead as talks fail

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The Independent Online

Talks aimed at averting a series of strikes by London Underground workers from next week have broken down and the industrial action will go ahead as planned, union leaders said today.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said LU had failed to remove the threat of cuts to safety and safe staffing levels which would have allowed "meaningful discussions" to take place.

Thousands of Tube staff are due to launch the walkouts from next Monday evening, September 6, in protest at plans to cut 800 jobs, threatening travel chaos in the capital.

The RMT accused LU management of "sabotaging" talks today at the conciliation service Acas with officials from the union, and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "LU management knew very well that meaningful talks could not proceed while the threat of cuts to safety and safe staffing levels hung over our members' heads - their failure to remove that threat sabotaged any prospect of making progress.

"RMT and TSSA negotiators completely demolished the LU line that the cuts are simply about new technology and the Oyster card. The planned cuts are part of a multi-billion black hole facing the Mayor due to the costs of the failure of Tube privatisation and an attack on funding levels from the ConDem Government.

"Not only are ticket offices and ticket staff jobs threatened but hundreds of other station staff posts are also on the line. It was the presence of those very staff that averted potential disaster in recent incidents involving fires at Euston and Oxford Circus.

"RMT and TSSA have been presented with a stark choice. We could sit back and wait for a major disaster while safety cuts are bulldozed through, turning the Tube into a death trap, or we can stand up and fight for passenger and staff safety.

"On Monday we will be making a stand on safety and safe staffing levels on behalf of all Londoners."

Howard Collins, London Underground's chief operating officer, said: "London Underground went to Acas to take part in meaningful discussions with the TSSA and RMT leaderships, with the expectation that they would be prepared to do the same.

"However, from the outset, they have imposed unreasonable preconditions that they knew would render constructive discussions impossible.

"London Underground needs to change, as it is simply not possible to go on with a situation where some ticket offices sell fewer than 10 tickets an hour. We have assured the unions, and I do so again unequivocally, that our staffing changes are being delivered without compromising London Underground's high safety standards.

"They come with no compulsory redundancies, all stations with a ticket office will continue to have one, and all stations will be staffed at all times.

"This threatened strike is therefore completely unnecessary. It will do nothing but disrupt Londoners, and lose those who strike a day's pay.

"London Underground remains willing as ever to meet and take part in constructive discussions at any time without setting any preconditions. We urge the RMT and TSSA leadership to drop their preconditions so that meaningful discussions can take place."

Meanwhile, the TSSA announced that its members employed by Tube Lines will strike next Tuesday in a separate row over pay.

Managers and clerical workers will walk out from 9am to 5pm and start an indefinite ban on overtime.

TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: "High-performing managers last year received no pay increase whilst many of the staff they manage received a pay rise of 4.2%. Tube Lines have consistently refused to negotiate with us over the matter and our members have finally said enough is enough.

"We remain open to talks to try and resolve this dispute and I find it remarkable that Tube Lines have yet to contact us in this respect.

"One would almost believe that they welcome such a dispute, despite the fact that it will further inconvenience passengers already reeling from next week's strike on London Underground over job losses."

A Transport for London spokesman said: "With only around a third of Tube Lines' TSSA union members voting for strike action, there is clearly little support for this issue.

"In the current economic climate it is doubtful there will be much sympathy for the TSSA leadership's decision to take pointless and unnecessary strike action over the issue of managers' performance-related pay."