Shoppers 'face Christmas chaos' as Tube drivers vote for strike action

London commuters and shoppers ‘face Christmas chaos’ as union eyes festive period for strike action after almost 99 percent of Tube drivers vote for industrial action over pensions and working conditions

  • Members of train drivers’ union Aslef voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking
  • No dates have been set, but it is understood the union is eyeing up festive period
  • Dispute relates to proposed changes to staff pensions and working conditions 
  • The union claims TfL is trying to ‘plug’ funding gap caused by Covid pandemic

London commuters and shoppers ‘face Christmas chaos’ as a union is eyeing the festive period for strike action after almost 99 per cent of Tube drivers voted for industrial action over pensions and working conditions. 

Members of Aslef have voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking if Transport for London’s (TfL) proposed changes to their working conditions and pensions are forced through without negotiation.

The union has said TfL and the Government are trying to ‘plug’ a funding gap caused by the Covid pandemic and falling passenger numbers by ‘slashing staff pensions and tearing up our agreed working conditions’. 

No date has yet been set for potential strike action, but it is understood the union may be eyeing up the festive period to ramp up pressure on TfL to back down – just as the nation’s capital gets back on its feet after the pandemic and during the retail sector’s busiest and most lucrative time.  

Finn Brennan, Aslef’s organiser on the Tube, said: ‘98.8 per cent of our Tube train drivers on London Underground have voted in favour of strike action. 

Commuters and shoppers may face Christmas chaos if Aslef goes ahead with potential strike action

Finn Brennan, Aslef’s organiser on the Tube, said the vote was a ‘staggering mandate’ as he cited a financial crisis at TfL

‘That’s an extraordinary figure – and a staggering mandate from our members – that sends a clear message to Transport for London.

‘Government cuts to its funding, together with a fall in passenger numbers since the Covid pandemic, have led to a financial crisis at TfL. 

‘Management and government now want to plug that funding gap by slashing staff pensions and tearing up our agreed working conditions. But this ballot result shows that our Tube train drivers aren’t prepared to let them get away with it.

‘Management should be in no doubt that if they try to force through changes to our agreements, working conditions, or pensions, there will be hard-hitting and sustained industrial action across London Underground.’

Just under 1,400 Tube drivers took part in the vote, with just 16 voting against strike action.  

A union source claimed the proposed changes to pensions and working conditions would see drivers ‘working harder and longer for less’.

The RMT has also previously described the proposals as ‘just a pay cut in disguise’. 

Mr Brennan added: ‘Last year Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street and applauded essential workers. Now his government wants to cut our pensions and attack our working conditions. 

‘London needs a well-funded public transport system with staff who are properly rewarded for the work we do. The government needs to provide proper long-term funding for TfL and stop trying to cut services or make staff pay for the problems they have caused.’ 

A busy Oxford Street in central London in the run-up to Christmas. Shoppers could be badly affected by strike action from Tube drivers

The Government has paid TfL nearly £4 billion in bailouts to keep it afloat during the pandemic. 

Despite rail commuters returning to London at a slower rate than the rest of the country, passenger numbers on the Tube were recorded at around 80 per cent of pre-pandemic figures on October 23 and October 24.

However, weekday numbers remain significantly down, at around 60 per cent, according to the Rail Delivery Group.

The group said the so-called ‘London lag’ in the return of train commuters is making it harder for shops and restaurants to reopen.   

Rail commuters brought an estimated £16.7bn a year to London pre-pandemic, but this figure is now understood to be around £6.8bn.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: ‘The funding gap on the Underground is not the fault of the men and women who, every day, help passengers move around the capital. 

‘So there is no reason why the terms on which they are employed should be ripped up. Pensions, for which we pay, are deferred wages. And we are not prepared to have our pensions looted.’ 

The Government has handed TfL a series of short-term funding deals, but these arrived with conditions that included reviewing staff pensions and looking at a moves towards driverless trains.

Reacting to the vote, TfL urged Aslef to continue working to resolve the dispute. 

A TfL spokesperson said: ‘This mandate relates to ongoing discussions with our trade unions.

‘We urge Aslef to continue working with us to resolve these matters without having to resort to industrial action.’    

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