The Night Tube Negotiations – An RMT Drivers’ Discussion Document

Since Mayor Johnson first announced his plans to introduce Night Tube (NT) on Fridays and Saturdays back in November 2013, the question in every mess room and canteen has been about how, exactly, is it going to work? Whilst business leaders hailed the opportunity to “boost businesses, jobs and leisure opportunities in London’s vibrant night-time economy” drivers just wanted to know if it would be safe and how we will be fairly compensated for the increasingly anti-social working hours.

The RMT position is to welcome the creation of extra jobs and extend the service, but only if it’s negotiated properly and introduced safely. The problem we have is that Johnson announced the date for the introduction of NT without any negotiations with the Trade Unions. In fact the announcement was made, to the surprise of many senior LUL managers, on the same day he told the press about the closure of every single ticket office. Johnson, the master of spin, succeeded in banishing headlines about broken election promises and replacing them with pictures of happy 24-hour party people.

The result of this spin is that we are now less than 6 months from the proposed introduction of NT in September with no understanding of what is required, no agreements, no duties and no timetables – and with 3,700 drivers who know nothing about NT other than knowing they don’t want it.

The Trains Functional Council (TFC) which comprises managers and reps from the RMT and Aslef, has been in talks on NT for many months but is still a long way from any solution. Whenever the staff side comes up with what we perceive to be a workable solution, we are faced with insurmountable problems. The biggest problem, unsurprisingly, is a lack of funds. Johnson wants a bargain basement solution: minimum staffing levels, no enhanced pay, and a compliant workforce. His managers think this is unlikely to be achieved; we on staff side know it isn’t going to happen.

The proposal

So what do we want? We all agree that if NT comes in we want it introduced in a way that causes the least disruption to current drivers, and staffed wherever possible by volunteers. We want a system that doesn’t penalize the most junior drivers by forcing them to work the most unsociable shifts. We want financial benefits paid to those drivers who work the NT shifts. We want compensation for all drivers for agreeing to change our long established agreements. We want duties that aren’t so long that they cause exhaustion. We want a support system in place through the night so that NT drivers are not isolated and vulnerable. And crucially we want LUL to acknowledge that we already work too many weekends and they need to be reduced to pre 1992 levels.

The latest proposal we put to LUL is for NT duties to be placed on the main depot roster so that over its course everyone works the same number of NT turns. We requested that there be an enhanced payment for working the Friday and Saturday nights with extra “recovery” rest days built in to the roster the following week. The rationale behind this was that the enhanced payment should allow those drivers who do not want to work nights to swap with colleagues; and the recovery days would protect drivers from safety related incidents caused by exhaustion. Those depots currently with fixed links would need to consider where best to place the NT duties, with consideration being given to normal night turns remaining where they are and NT shifts going to the mixed link. LUL have rejected this as being too expensive.

Mayor's Unreliable Funding Claims

Johnson’s concern about funding NT isn’t based on any realistic analysis of the money available. A recent report, quoted favourably by the Mayor’s office, described London as the world’s most popular tourist city in 2014, with 58% of visitors to the West End coming from overseas. Theatres, hotels and shops all did really well, with the West End alone contributing £51.25 billion to the UK economy. Recently Johnson boasted that NT alone would boost the economy by a further £360 million. So there is plenty of money available.

Not all night workers are being expected to work at the basic rate. The British Transport Police (BTP) was asked to submit a budget for NT and did so. They asked for funding for an additional 116 police officers who would be paid a 20% bonus for working at night. There was no negotiating, or suggesting that they should do it at a flat rate, LUL just agreed immediately for the extra numbers and for the extra wages. But it seems that what’s good enough for the BTP isn’t good enough for drivers.

LUL has broken with established protocol by ignoring the collective bargaining process and, maybe out of frustration, approached drivers directly. They have suggested a couple of options: populate the entire NT with part-timers; or have a separate link for night turns. Both these options would be paid at the flat rate with a one off payment of £250 for every member of staff (before tax) with maybe an extra £250 at some undefined future point if everything goes according to plan. We made it clear that if they want a deal on NT they need to negotiate within the machinery. We have already told them that the cash offer is derisory – but what about their rostering proposals?

Part-time only is something we looked at as a staff side. There are merits in offering part-time work to staff to help with their work-life balance; we already have weekend only work and job shares for established drivers. Finding a way of accommodating part-time station staff into a part-time driver role is something that some in the RMT are keen to explore. But the idea of recruiting people into a completely new, untested role that involves just driving two 8 hour night shifts a week is fraught with health and safety concerns and is outside of current agreements. It would also impact on established drivers through taking away night turns from the current rosters and creating an imbalance of extra Sunday work.
A separate night turn link, comprised of NT duties, normal night turns and a number of dead late turns to make up a roster is also something staff side have looked at in some detail. It could be an attractive option that meets our aspiration of affecting the fewest drivers. But in order to populate the roster with volunteers there would need to be an incentive i.e. more money and more time off; but the mayor doesn’t want to pay for that. To set up a roster with no incentivisation and then populate it with drivers based on juniority would be a disaster for staff morale in the depots - and the company knows to its cost that a demoralised workforce exhibits higher levels of sickness absence. Forcing junior staff to work the worst shifts and the greatest number of weekends is unacceptable to the RMT, and is not something we will allow.

LUL and Unions Miles Apart

So where next? The RMT and the other trade unions are still willing to talk to LUL about NT, but there needs to be an acceptance on LUL’s side that a one off payment of £250 is nowhere near enough to guarantee its successful introduction. As is always the case when we are asked to change long established agreements, we expect compensation. We are currently a million miles apart, and as we drift further apart the implementation date grows even closer and the Mayor’s face gets even redder. But time is on the side of the trade unions because our members don’t want to work all through the night at weekends; we’re in no hurry to change.

The ball is very much in LUL’s court; they can tell Mayor Johnson that implementation in September is possible but he needs to be prepared to pay for it; or they can tell him that it isn’t possible to introduce NT on his terms and he should forget about it. Whichever option LUL chooses, the managers need to spend more time talking sense to their political master and less time talking nonsense to the drivers.
As a union we ask that you attend your branch meetings and the Train Grades meetings for further details, and speak to your local reps to give feedback on what you want to get out of Night Tube.

RMT Trains Functional Council Members
Dean O’Hanlon
Will Reid
Vaughan Thomas

  • This is an update specifically from Trains Functional Reps. Night Tube is also being discussed on behalf of all grades, both grade specifically and jointly at company council.