London Mayor Sadiq Khan was questioned on LBC radio today (13 August) about conditions for Tube cleaners, particularly their lack of staff travel benefits. His non-committal remarks, which talked up an existing scheme whereby cleaners working across multiple sites don't have to pay to travel between them, were misleadingly reported by LBC journalist Theo Usherwood as a commitment to "free travel to and from work".
Whilst hardly a great leap forward, it represents Khan, with whom the TfL/LU buck ultimately stops, conceding that outsourced cleaners deserve at least some staff travel benefits.
Khan's justification for not giving cleaners equal travel benefits to directly-employed staff was unconvincing; he cited "a variety of reasons", but the only he specified was that there are lots of contractors working on TfL/LU, and implied that it would simply be unreasonable for them all to expect staff travel passes.
But why? There are all sorts of different workers amongst directly-employed TfL/LU staff, but it's understood that making the system run is a collective effort, so they all get the same staff travel pass. Why should the contribution of outsourced workers - who, let's remember, didn't ask for their work to be outsourced, and would be directly employed had it not been - be deemed less worthy?
But even on Khan's own terms, Tube cleaners are not "contractors" who only work on LU on an incidental, job-by-job basis, whilst also working for their private company's other clients, as some other contractors do. Whilst they may have second or third jobs for other employers, due to low wages, an ABM cleaner on the LU contract works on that contract. Cleaners are part of the permanent LU workforce, with the same cleaners cleaning the same stations, offices, and depots every day. They should have the same conditions as their directly-employed workmates.
Perhaps more significantly, in the same interview, Khan said he would "consider" bringing the contract for cleaning on TfL in house when it comes up for expiry in 2022, but ruled out cancelling the contract before that. As far as Tubeworker is aware, this is the first time he has committed publicly to doing even so much as "considering" in-housing cleaning.
This is some small but real progress, and Khan's references to RMT's "lobbying" and "campaigning" makes clear that it's progress that has been achieved via the pressure of RMT cleaners and their supporters. Winning the in-housing of cleaning would be one of the most significant wins for Tube workers in quite some time. But we can't be complacent. The outsourced contract for catering has come up for renewal during Khan's mayoralty, and there was no sign of any intervention, or "consideration" of alternatives, from his office as LU went ahead and re-tendered the contract to Sodexo.
We should use Khan's comments as impetus to intensify our pressure on him, and step up our campaigning for equal staff travel benefits for all cleaners, and for in-housing. 2022 should be the latest, not the soonest!