Friday, May 09, 2008

Boris set for clash with Tube unions

NEW LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson said he would seek a “no-strike” deal with unions on the London Underground if he won the election.
Johnson boasted his election manifesto: “I will look to reduce the disruption caused by strikes on the Tube by negotiating a no-strike deal with the unions.”
In return for agreeing not to strike the unions will get “the security provided by having the pay negotiations conducted by an independent arbiter”, whose final decision will be binding.
But as soon as Johnson took office the unions made it clear there was no possibility of any such deal happening, leaving Johnson facing his first defeat.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union – the biggest of the Tube unions, said his union “would be mad to give up the right to strike”.
“It would be insane for us to surrender our democratic rights – our human right – to withdraw our labour to defend our interests,” he added. “The RMT wants good industrial relations with the Mayor but it will never enter into a no-strike agreement.”
Other Tube union leaders agreed; Keith Norman, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, warned that Johnson would be heading for “mass confrontation” if he didn’t back down.
Norman said: “If Johnson tries to force a no-strike deal then London will have to get ready for mass confrontation. Boris has shown that he is not interested in negotiation or compromise.”
And Gerry Doherty, general secretary of TSSA, the second largest Tube union, said the union could not imagine what Johnson would offer for it to agree such a deal. “We don’t know where he is coming from.
“He is saying that we will have to give up our right (to strike.) I cannot conceive what on earth he could put on the table (to agree a no-strike deal.).”
Doherty added that strike action was the last and sometimes only weapon to use. “It is not just about pay, it is also about conditions.”
On many occasions the Tube unions have used industrial action – or the threat of industrial action – over vital safety issues that affect passengers as well as Tube workers.
All three unions said they would refuse to accept binding arbitration.
Now it seems that Johnson is facing a collision with the unions and faces having to back down or face a Tube strike.
The unions have also sent a strong message to Johnson that they will oppose any attempt to re-privatise the maintenance work on the Tube infrastructure that was being done by the failed company Metronet. That company failed in its task and collapsed leaving taxpayers with a £2 billion bill.
Transport for London will take over its responsibilities soon in a schedule put in place by Ken Livingstone. The unions have warned Johnson not to reverse this decision.
Johnson is also preparing to scrap London’s 350 bendy buses and replace them with a new version of the Routemaster. He has launched a competition to design the new bus.Many motorists do not like the long bendy buses but they carry up to 138 passengers and with three sets of doors they load and unload very quickly.
Being single-deckers makes all the seats accessible to the elderly and those encumbered with young children or heavy shopping or luggage. They also have more space for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
But it seems that Johnson has got his sums wrong the cost of replacing the bendies has risen from £8 million to £100 million.

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