London Tube Chiefs Hold Mammoth Union Talks as Next Strike Looms
London Underground chiefs negotiated with subway-union leaders for more than 7 1/2 hours today as the next strike aimed at halting job cuts and ticket-office closures threatens to disrupt travel in the capital from Monday.
The sides sat down at the London offices of the state-sponsored Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service at 10 a.m. for what Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union spokesman Geoff Martin said would be open-ended talks, and were still there after 5:30 p.m., according to Transport for London.
Negotiations started less than 48 hours after the end of the most recent two-day walkout, which drove away almost half the passengers who typically make 3 million daily journeys on the world’s oldest subway. The longest strike yet, for 72 hours starting at 9 p.m. on May 5, is still scheduled, Martin said.
“We have made significant changes to our original proposals after listening to our people and the unions,” London Underground Managing Director Mike Brown said in a statement. “The only sensible course is for the RMT leadership to join us and the other unions in continuing discussions and to work with us to shape the future of the Tube.”
The company says its proposed measures will save 50 million pounds ($84 million) a year with no compulsory job cuts, and that 650 people have already applied to leave. Some 750 position may go, though the RMT puts the number at 1,000.
The union, which says stations would be left understaffed and unsafe, today called on London Underground to shelve its plan and open a public consultation, citing a poll this week it suggested had shown six out of 10 Londoners backed that approach. The RMT halted the second of two February walkouts for earlier negotiations that ultimately failed to reach a deal.
Today’s session takes place after the death of Bob Crow at the age of 52 in March left the union without a veteran leader known for securing pay raises even as the U.K. government imposed deep cuts in public spending.
Acting general secretary Mick Cash and London organizer John Leach will lead talks for the RMT at Acas, Martin said by text message, with a permanent replacement for Crow to be chosen in September. London Underground’s team is led by Phil Hufton, its chief operating officer.
Londoners relying on the Tube to reach work saw disruption ease April 30 on the final day of this week’s strike, with trains running on all 11 lines to about 80 percent of stations, and 90 percent of regular swipe-card holders riding the network.
All the same, trains began running about 1 1/2 hours later at 7 a.m. and total passenger numbers were 43 percent below the usual level, according to TfL, which manages the subway for Mayor Boris Johnson.
Buses were also stuffed full, even with extra vehicles deployed, while roads were clogged and docking bays for London’s 10,000 rental cycles were full from early morning in central areas amid demand higher even than during the Olympics.
TfL said that while the city was “open for business,” conditions for its customers had been “tough.” The RMT said London Underground had resorted to running skeleton operations in order to claim an exaggerated level of available services.
Retailers, restaurants, theaters and tourism-focused businesses also said that footfall plummeted during the strike. Next week’s walkout is scheduled to begin on a public holiday, when far fewer people generally travel, though the action could disrupt leisure activities, TfL spokeswoman Ann Laker said.
The Tube has 270 stations, with 57,000 people using the busiest, Waterloo, in the three-hour morning peak.
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