February 3, 2014 1:34 pm

Mayor and unions at impasse as Londoners face Tube strike

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Boris Johnson has refused to bow to union leaders’ demands to delay planned job losses on the London Underground and hold direct talks to avert a 48-hour strike, leaving commuters in the capital braced for travel woe.

London’s mayor said the strike action was “nonsensical” when the savings made from closing ticket offices would bring greater investment in signalling, trains and services, leading to “more jobs in the long run”.

The leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association accused Mr Johnson and Transport for London bosses of refusing to discuss the plans for a radical overhaul of the Tube. But London’s mayor remained defiant, blaming the unions for the disruption. “It’s up to the unions concerned and their leadership to stop a pointless piece of industrial action,” he said.

Tube map

Tube map

TfL announced in November that it planned to close all Tube ticket offices at the 240 stations and run 24-hour services on some lines at weekends from 2015.

“We have constantly been trying to talk to them [since November] . . . They haven’t been taking us seriously so we had no choice but to ballot for industrial action,” said Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT.

The RMT and TSSA said they would hold direct talks with Mr Johnson if he was prepared to delay the job cuts. “We are prepared to suspend industrial action if he is prepared to suspend the job losses,” said Mr Crow.

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA, said he would not negotiate “with a gun to his head” and accused Mr Johnson of engineering the dispute to “further his long-term political career”.

Staff are due to walk out from 9pm on Tuesday and again next week from February 11 in protest at plans to close all ticket offices.

The closures would lead to a net loss of 750 jobs among the 5,750 station staff. TfL has rejected claims by the unions that the ticket office closures would undermine safety.

Mr Johnson said more than the target of 950 staff had come forward for the voluntary redundancy scheme. “There is no need for this strike to go ahead.”

Responding to accusations of hypocrisy over his 2008 pledge to retain ticket offices, Mr Johnson said advances in technology had changed the argument. “We no longer have boiler stokers on the Tube because we no longer have trains that run on coal. Things have moved on since I was elected six years ago,” he said.

The extent of travel chaos the strike would cause became apparent on Monday when TfL released details of the limited services they expected to offer during the walkout.

TfL said reduced services would operate on all Underground lines and was preparing to mobilise at least 1,000 other staff to try to reduce the impact of the strike action.

No Tube trains are due to run on Wednesday or Thursday morning before 7am and all services will end at 11pm.

Restrictions will vary on each line, with the Central and Piccadilly lines both suspended through central London. TfL is trying to ensure that as many commuters as possible can get to interchange stations that would allow them to transfer to other lines and buses to get to work.

The strike has been roundly condemned by business groups, although there is also public opposition to the proposed closure of Tube ticket offices

Trains are due to run every five minutes over both branches of the entire Northern Line (except for Mill Hill East) but will not stop at more than a dozen stations.

The Victoria line will run between Seven Sisters and Victoria. Similar restrictions will be imposed on the rest of the Tube’s lines. Both the London Overground and the DLR will run as normal as will mainline commuter services.

TfL is laying on 100 extra buses on key routes and is urging people to walk or cycle where possible.

The strike has been roundly condemned by business groups, although there is also public opposition to the proposed closure of Tube ticket offices.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said strike action not only disrupted commuters’ lives but also affected the city’s reputation.

“Repeated strike action damages London’s national and global image as a modern efficient city and could affect investment prospects in the long term,” he said.

“According to TfL figures, only 3 per cent of Tube journeys involve a visit to a ticket office, so TfL’s proposal to get staff out from behind the counter and in front of passengers offering an enhanced face-to-face service seems logical.

“Staff concerns around changes to staffing of the network should be discussed with TfL and not be used to penalise Londoners.”

The two sides have made no progress during talks at Acas, the arbitration and conciliation service, during the past week.

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