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London Tube strike: Hopes rise for end of action after Sadiq Khan signals he has accepted union demands

By @RossLydall
24 June 2022
H

opes of an end to the dispute that has caused four Tube strikes in three months have risen after Sadiq Khan signalled he accepted union demands not to cut staff pensions.

The mayor said he was “not persuaded” that the Transport for London “final salary” pension scheme, which cost TfL £401m in contributions last year, needed to have its benefits curtailed.

But it came as 92 per cent of RMT members voted to continue strike action on the Tube – though no new dates have been set.

A total of 4,912 members voted in favour of more walkouts, with 424 against. But only 5,344 RMT members – 53 per cent of those entitled to vote – took part in the ballot, which renews the union’s legal “mandate” to continue action until December 23.

No proposals to cut pensions have been tabled but it is one of two main concerns – the other is the loss of 600 station staff posts – that saw the RMT union force a shutdown of the London Underground on March 1 and 3 and June 6 and 21.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch on Friday described the strike ballot result as “fantastic”.

He said: "TfL and the Mayor of London need to seriously re-think their plans for hundreds of job cuts and trying to take hard-earned pensions from workers who serve the people of London on a daily basis.

"We are acutely aware of the funding cuts being foisted on TfL by the Westminster government. However, Mayor Sadiq Khan needs to mount a serious campaign for the people of London, to get the capital city the funding it deserves for its public transport.

"He should not be trying to sacrifice our members pensions and jobs to fit within budget restraints laid down by Boris Johnson."

Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, said: “We are disappointed that the RMT has achieved a mandate for further strike action. As a result of the pandemic and its impact on TfL finances, we have to become more efficient.

“There are no proposals to change pensions or terms and conditions and our proposals will ensure any reduction in roles is achieved through vacancy management, in line with our no compulsory redundancy agreement. We’re calling on the RMT to continue working with us.”

Mr Khan, speaking on Thurday afternoon as TfL was granted a three-week extension to its current Government pandemic bailout, told the Standard: “I’m quite clear I’m not persuaded that there are any grounds to change the pensions of those who work for TfL. It’s for the Government to make the case.

“I’m quite clear the way to recognise the hard work of our transport workers - the many thousands who have kept our city running - shouldn’t be to make unilateral changes on their terms and conditions.”

Tory critics reacted with alarm to the mayor’s comments. London Assembly member Keith Prince said: “It’s disgraceful if Sadiq Khan decides he’d prefer to cut bus routes and other TfL services than save £182 million per year by reforming TfL pensions.”

An independent review commissioned by Mr Khan in 2020 described the pension scheme as “generous” and said reforming it could save £100m a year by 2025.

But a fuller review, led by former union chief Sir Brendan Barber and published last month, said modifying the scheme could save up to £182.4m - but warned it was “just about the only benefit of employment above and beyond employees’ salaries and travel concessions” and was highly valued by staff.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday night granted TfL an extension to its funding deal until July 13 – but made clear he wanted a “reset of the relationship” with City Hall. TfL is seeking £900m for the current financial year and a long-term deal on capital investment.

He accused Mr Khan of “campaigns of scaremongering and threats”. TfL is consulting on axing 22 bus routes in central London and reducing the frequencies on almost 60 others. On Thursday, Mr Khan claimed that without a long-term funding deal for TfL 100 bus routes would have to be axed and Tube services cut by 10 per cent.

He said this would result in one million fewer journeys a day being made by public transport in the capital, leading to “gridlock” on the roads as Londoners returned to their cars, and increased levels of toxic air.

He accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Shapps of “treating Londoners with contempt” in failing to secure TfL’s finances. The Government has already provided about £5bn in bailouts.

Mr Khan also vowed to introduce premium Heathrow fares on the Tube and to increase the deposit on Oyster cards – two cash-raising pledges first made last December but yet to be enacted.

Mr Khan responded to Mr Shapps in an angry series of late-night tweets – despite a pledge on his re-election a year ago to “build bridges” with Government in his second term.

A Government source told the Standard on Friday: “The mayor’s ‘Project Fear’ is a poor way to build bridges. Using TfL services as a political weapon is simply not in his or London’s interests.”

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said the extension was the 11th ‘”stop-gap” funding settlement between the Government and TfL in just over two years.

He said: “The longer this cycle of short-termism goes on, the harder it will be to affordably maintain and build the capital’s transport system, and support not just London’s economy into the future, but also the wider UK’s.”

Adam Tyndall, programme director for transport at business group London First, said: “Now is the time to put the politics to one side and prioritise serious negotiations. However, history suggests that a mere 19 day extension is unlikely to be sufficient, leaving London’s transport stuck on life support.”

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