Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Haven’t we been through this before?

Posted in Business, Customer service, London, Metro by Chairman Pip on 27 November 2012

In case you hadn’t heard, once again ASLEF has balloted its members working for London Underground on strike action over working on Boxing Day. This is the same issue that has gone on for the last two years – from the way I look at it, there is an apparent disagreement between LU and the union over the definition of a public holiday and whether Boxing Day (or, if that particular day is at the weekend, then the next weekday that holiday falls on) counts as a genuine bank holiday or not. It seems that the union view Boxing Day as something outside the normal public holiday structure, which is why they’re after special arrangements (triple time and a day in lieu). London Underground view it as an ordinary public holiday, which should therefore fall under the arrangements they have in place for working on other public holidays. The announcement of the ballot result is due on the 17th December. All very irritating. It would be interesting to know just precisely what the people in the middle, the drivers who are represented by the union, actually think. Well, blow me if I didn’t find out. Or at least, what one driver thinks. The Observations and Opinions of a Central Line Train Driver is a blog I found while thinking about this piece, and the driver in question has obviously written his own views on the subject. While he naturally thinks that his bosses have their heads filled with moondust over the issue, he does make a reply to the following comment:

Why is there this need for everybody to not even be able to have just TWO days off with their families thats guaranteed time off

He points out that not everyone that works on Boxing Day is involved in retail; the police, fire service and hospitals are all on duty; the broadcasters all keep our televisions and radios working; the power generators that keep us heated and lit, the telephones and internets, all of this needs to be kept going, and all of it needs people. As a consequence, the country doesn’t simply shut down, and so all of those people need to be able to get to work. He also goes on to say that he is not in favour of the Tube shutting down on Boxing Day – simply that he doesn’t feel as many people are needed to operate a Boxing Day service level as on an ordinary weekend. To put this into context, he gives the following figures:

  • West Ruislip depot has 68 train operators (drivers)
  • On a weekday 41 are required
  • On a Saturday 35 are required
  • On a Sunday 26 are required
  • For Boxing Day working 18 are apparently needed

If this is the case then fair enough – I would certainly object to having more people going in than were needed. The problem is them having to volunteer, which means that the employer has to offer an incentive. Now I have no objection to someone who works outside the normal working time (i.e. at the weekend or on a public holiday) receiving some additional benefit for it, whether it be double time or an extra day in lieu. But (and I said this last year) I do feel that people employed on essential services should not volunteer to work on those days. There should be a prescribed list of days, which should mirror what is set out in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 and subsequently; and there should be a rota, so if your name comes up, you go in. This makes it fair and equal, and should nullify the threat of what is an essential service being at the mercy of the unions.

I should point out that I have a vested interest – not only is Boxing Day a big retail day, but it is also a big day in the football season, with a full league programme scheduled. There are seven Premier and Football League fixtures in London on that day, one of which is Arsenal v West Ham, which I plan to go to. You may remember the difficulty I had getting to a Boxing Day fixture away to Fulham a couple of years ago, which will likely be similar if I am unable to use the Tube to get to Arsenal this year. It would be nice to be able to get get to an away game at Christmas without having to think weeks in advance just how I’m going to get there. Mind you, as the Central Line driver (who it appears is also an Irons fan) points out, Arsenal have had four successive Boxing Day home games, while we have been stuck with three successive away games on the day after Christmas. Is there something in that?

“London Underground drivers balloted for strike action”

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