Faced with Government demands to cut £509 million from London Underground’s costs as part of the overall cuts to TfL, you might have hoped that management would start at the top. After all, the large army of directors and senior manager on £120,000 plus salaries cost much more to employ (and cost the pension fund a lot more) than staff on the average L.U wage. And trains and stations seemed to operate just fine when managers worked from home while frontline staff risked their health by keeping services operating through the height of the pandemic.
But it seems that the days of praise and hypocritical claps for essential workers are behind us. Like public sector workers across the country, London Underground staff are being targeted for cuts to pensions entitlements and working conditions.
A review of TfL pensions is taking place now and will provide recommendations to Government by the end of October. The TfL pension fund is a very healthy one. It has used a sensible long-term investment strategy to grow its assets and was able to ride out pandemic turmoil in financial markets so that it is now in a stronger position than ever before. But the explicit aim of the review is to substantially reduce the amount of money the employer pays in, meaning that there is less available to pay out benefits in the future.
We don’t know yet what options the review will propose, but the expectation is that they will all involve reducing the amount that staff will receive in your future pension. Pension benefits aren’t a kind gift from the employer, they are part of your package of wages and conditions; money that you are earning now but that is paid to you when you retire.
Cutting pension benefits is a wage cut. It means you will have less money coming in and a worse standard of living in retirement than you are expecting now. Depending on the options produced by the review, this will mean that you could lose many tens of thousands of pounds and the decent life after work that you are hoping for.
At the latest meeting with management, they were also clear about their plans to change working conditions. We were explicitly told that “staying the same is not an option”. And a management bulletin sent out after the meeting told us that they intend to start, not with high paid managers but Train and Station staff.
The people who did the most to keep our city moving are first in line for your working conditions and agreements to be trashed!
For all the management rhetoric about wanting to “do things differently this time”, this is a game we have seen played out before. They will first call a series of meetings at which they will give presentations on the financial issues the company face, then they will invite the trade unions to make suggestions on what cuts and changes to agreements they should make, and when your elected reps rightly refuse to give away your working conditions they will brand us as old-fashioned militants unable to deal with change. Then they will say there is no other option but to impose the changes they have planned all along.
ASLEF will not just sit back and let them get on with their plan to shred working conditions and cut tens of thousands of pounds from your pension. Twice in 2020 we successfully balloted our members to protect our agreements. Now we are getting ready to do so again. The challenge ahead is a bigger one than we have ever faced before. Management are determined to attack us all, we have to be equally ready to defend ourselves. We will need to prepare for a sustained campaign of industrial action that makes it very clear to management and their political masters that the cost of attacking your working conditions will be a higher one than they are prepared to pay.
If London is to recover from the pandemic, it needs a well-funded reliable public transport system. If the Government chose to have disruptive strikes and permanent conflict with the workforce, then they will have to bear the consequences.
Right now, there are steps that everyone needs to take as we get ready for this crucial fight.
· First of all, if you are not already a member, join ASLEF now. We must have a strong focused trade union that can face this challenge. To be part of the decisions we will have to make about the future of your working life, join us now and make sure your voice is heard.
· If you are all ready a member, check that your address and contact details are up to date. For example, do you get the ASLEF Journal delivered to your home address every month? If in any doubt you can update them on the ASLEF website.
· Attend your local branch meeting if you can. Physical branch meetings are happening in September and details will be on notice boards or from your local reps. This gives you an opportunity to speak directly to reps and help shape our strategy.
· Talk to your colleagues and workmates about what is coming up. With multiple flyers and WhatsApp groups lots of people tend to tune out and may not realize the scale of what is happening. One to one conversations in the mess room or the canteen can make them aware just what is at stake over the coming months.
· Encourage non-members to join ASLEF. Many people new to the job may worry about getting involved in the union or a dispute. It is important to explain that the more junior you are, the more any changes will affect you. Staff with only a few years to retirement will have built up pension pots and wouldn’t have to deal with worse conditions for very long. If your retirement is decades ahead the consequences of changes to pensions and conditions could be devastating for you.
As we learn more and prepare to ballot over the coming weeks, we will do our best to keep members updated. Please share these updates with colleagues and get in touch with any questions or queries.
ASLEF District Organiser.