Over the last few days, ASLEF have been meeting management to get a clearer understanding of the funding settlement agreed between the Government and TfL and what the implications will be for our members and for other staff.
First the positive news; it is good that the immediate risk of TfL running out of money, and the huge service cuts that could have meant, has now been removed. Funding is now in place for the rest of the financial year (until March 31st 2021) and by January 11th there will be a plan for “future sustainability” by 2023. The exact amount received will depend on passenger revenue which gives some protection from the effects of lockdown.
Despite the many public calls from the Tory candidate for London Mayor and from the Prime Minister to attack staff pensions and conditions, there is nothing in the agreement that will immediately do so. TfL will still have to make around an extra £160 million worth of cuts, but these will be spread across the entire operation and are a relatively small part of the overall budget.
Although there is a clause in the agreement that says an “expert review” will be set up into the feasibility of driverless trains, it is clear that this is simply a political sop to the Prime Ministers’ ego. No expert has ever been found who believes that driverless trains on the Underground make any economic or practical sense. As documents released by ASLEF last week showed, it would cost around £7 billion to implement and deliver no real savings. The funding agreement is also explicit that there is no money in the TfL budget for this.
We are also closely monitoring the effects of the funding discussions and the wider economic climate on the TfL pension fund. The fund is healthy and well managed and has recovered well from the market crises early this year. There is a legally binding deficit recovery plan in place and TfL continue to make all the required payments. But like all defined benefit schemes, changes in legislation and a climate of low investment returns mean there will be challenges. A scheduled triannual valuation is due to take place next year and the trustees will review the results and act as necessary to ensure members benefits are protected for the long term.
None of this means that we can be complacent. While the massive Yes vote in our ballot meant management backed off from trying to break agreements, there is no doubt that there will be many issues to deal with in the short and medium term. At both local and combine wide level there will be managers who try to use the pandemic to push through changes or ignore agreements. ASLEF will always stand firm against them. We are committed to working to deliver a service for London and to help people travel safely, but will never accept imposition of changes without agreement.
In these difficult days, your elected reps at local, combine wide and national level are continuing to work hard to make sure members are kept safe and working conditions are protected. Branch meetings are being held online and there are weekly reps briefings to keep members informed and ensure senior reps are aware of issues at local level.
While many things in the future are uncertain, we can be sure that London Underground services will be key to the city’s recovery from this pandemic and that its staff and the strong effective trade union that protects them will be as essential as always.
ASLEF District Organiser.