As part of the 2015/16 pay and conditions settlement, management agreed that they have no principled objection to staff working a compressed hours working pattern such as a 4-day week. To see how this might work in practice, we agreed to hold a trial on the Jubilee line for six months of 4-day week rosters.
We learned lots of interesting lessons from the trial. Many drivers who took part felt there was a huge improvement in their quality of life from having an extra rest day every week. 44 extra days off every year, being able to spend time away from work, and not having to commute, saved them both time and money. Other drivers chose not to take part because they felt they preferred their current working pattern to the longer shifts needed to get the benefits of the extra time off.
For ASLEF, the key has always been to give drivers more choice. We recognise that different people want different things, depending on their other commitments or where they live. Of course, our aim is to get a reduction in the working week for everyone, but as all four of the trade unions acknowledged, that simply wasn’t achievable in the last pay round, on top of the above inflation pay rises we won.
Since the trial finished, ASLEF has been pushing to have the opportunity to work 4-day week rosters agreed for those depots who want to work them. This could be done on a completely voluntary basis at any location. No one would have to move from their current five-day roster system or parameters unless they choose to do so. If there were enough people who wanted to work a 4-day pattern, then a separate roster link could be introduced for them without creating any detriment for the main roster.
Management have repeatedly said they are willing to discuss this. And we know that to the vast majority of drivers across the combine, trade union agreements that give people more choices without hurting other staff are an obviously sensible idea.
Unfortunately, the leadership of RMT on London Underground disagree! They are not prepared to take part in any discussions, even with fellow trade union reps, on how a four-day week option can be implemented. And Management will not agree to new rosters unless both trade unions support changes !
While train drivers are contracted to work a 35-hour week, it is only possible to construct 4-day week rosters with people who volunteer for them, working a longer day than those who decide to keep working 5-day week rosters. By refusing to even discuss this, the RMT are preventing every driver on London Underground having the option to work a 4-day week with no loss of pay.
It is deeply frustrating that a minority trade union can be allowed to block positive changes, that could bring real benefits and a better quality of life to many drivers. Of course, we all know and accept that improving conditions for train drivers is not the RMT’s priority. They see their role very differently. But it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that their motivation is to prevent improvements for drivers, even when they can be made without effecting other staff. Their clear aim seems to be to use drivers industrial muscle in other peoples’ battles, not to get improvements for our grade now.
ASLEF will now look at other ways to achieve our objective of more choices and better working patterns for all, as well as keeping on working for more quality time off. Each trade union is of course, entitled to make their own decisions. But when your colleagues ask “Why haven’t we got a 4 day week like other train operating companies ?“ the answer is simple.
The RMT are blocking it!