Time for a ballot on Interserve

Published on: Sat, 23/11/2019 - 16:25

We’ve previously reported on the struggles faced by outsourced security workers in depots, sidings, and office buildings, employed by Interserve, and their efforts to fight back.

A number of them began getting organised through RMT, with the Piccadilly and District West branch taking a particular lead. Plans were laid for a dispute and ballot against cuts planned by Interserve, which would have seen many workers lose hours and pay. Things stalled at RMT head office, but local reps in the branch are pushing to get things back on track.

Our unions must empower the struggles of all members. Time for a ballot on Interserve!

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BTP and bodycams? How can we make our stations safer?

Published on: Fri, 19/10/2018 - 11:08

Relations between the British Transport Police and LU station staff have been somewhat strained of late. There’s a widespread feeling on the job that the BTP don’t take staff assaults seriously. This feeling was exacerbated by the news, reported in Tubeworker last month, that BTP officers conducted a covert operation at Piccadilly Circus, where they effectively spied on staff and undertook acts of antisocial behaviour in order to “gauge staff reaction”. Despite this less-than-collaborative relationship, many station staff feel like we should have more BTP officers on our stations.

Meanwhile, mainline train companies have been trialling wearable body cameras for station staff, in an effort to reduce assaults. There have previously been body-camera trials for LU staff too, including revenue inspectors and station staff at a few locations.

What to make of all of this? Are camera and more cops the answer to antisocial behaviour?

Tubeworker urges caution. As the Piccadilly Circus incident shows, the BTP can hardly be trusted to help us out, even when they are present. The police aren’t reliable allies. The police as an institution has a specific social role; when we strike, it's the police that come to restrict our ability to picket effectively. They're there to protect property far more than people.

We do want the police to respond quickly when called, and process our reports seriously and efficiently. But flooding our stations with cops will create a nervy, tense atmosphere for passengers and staff. If anything it could lead to more antisocial behaviour.

LU tells us it's our responsibility to de-escalate situations that could lead to assaults. Fine, but in that case we need to be supported in doing that by our employer - not via tokenistic workshops, but by improving our terms and conditions. We'll be much more level-headed if we're not fatigued from constant extreme shifts and lone working. The mixed messages from the company are starting to grate: they, rightly, tell us not to intervene with fare evaders, but are also now insisting we shepherd customers with Code 36s on their Oysters over to the POMs to top up, thereby potentially putting ourselves in danger. And remember, LU has consistently cut the number of Revenue Control Inspectors (RCIs).

Bodycams are a big risk, too. We’re railway workers, not bouncers. And do we want to expand a surveillance culture where all interactions are monitored and recorded? Issuing staff with wearable cameras would normalise assaults as part of the job. It says to staff, "you should expect to get assaulted; at least you can record it while it's happening".

We believe the key thing we need to reduce staff assaults is more staff. Having an increased staff presence makes us all safer, improves customer services (so the passengers are less pissed off!), and would reduce or eliminate lone working.

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BTP spies on station staff

Published on: Fri, 21/09/2018 - 16:40

There’s been outcry across the job since it emerged yesterday that plain-clothes British Transport Police officers had been conducting a covert spying operation on station staff at Piccadilly Circus.

The operation consisted of the officers posing as fare dodgers and committing acts of antisocial behaviour in order, apparently to “gauge staff reaction”.

Although the local Area Manager claims not to have known about the operation in advance, he was briefed by the BTP afterwards. He did not notify staff however, and only admitted his involvement when challenged by union reps.

It appears that, in response to rising crime and staff assaults, BTP decided to surveil Piccadilly Circus... but found “no crime” but rather “poor customer service”.

This is an outrageous act of victim-blaming. The company is telling us we’re to blame for antisocial behaviour incidents in our station, and for our own assaults. Now our bosses appear to be colluding with covert police operations in an underhanded attempt to “prove” this calumny.

If there are indeed problems with customer service at any of our stations, then the cause is years of staffing cuts which have left stations chronically shorthanded and staff run ragged. The solution is to increase the staffing level, not to spy on staff.

An Employee Bulletin from LU Managing Director Mark Wild has rubbed considerable salt into the wounds by claiming that the operation only consisted of one BTP officer, acting alone and spontaneously, deciding to double-gate to see if staff would react.

This ludicrous spin is completely contradicted by the AM’s account, which makes clear something far more substantial has taken place.

LU is currently pressuring station staff to put ourselves in harm’s way by “encouraging” passengers who present at exit gates with a Code 36 (insufficient funds) to go to the POMs to top up. This has already been the cause of at least one staff assault. Undoubtedly the member of staff in question will have been to blame, according to LU and the BTP’s warped worldview!

Complaints have gone in to the company and the BTP. If commitments aren’t forthcoming that this practise will never be repeated, and that LU will support us, rather than blame us, when we get assaulted, we should stop the job. We don’t come to work to get spied on by the cops.

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Wot No Station Closure?

Published on: Fri, 20/04/2018 - 16:57

When a person was stabbed at Highbury and Islington station a couple of weekends ago, the Police asked for the station to close so they could search for the weapon. No problem, said the station staff, and started the process of closing it. But then the Service Manager got wind of this, and somehow had delusions of authority over the staff on site and ordered the trains - which had already started non-stopping at Highbury - to start stopping there.

Nearly twenty minutes of telephoning, to-ing and fro-ing later, the Service Manager finally agreed to stop the trains and allow the station to close.

Station staff will understand what an appalling incident this is. If we don't have the power to close stations when we need to - for example, when the Police ask us to - then we can not guarantee the safe operation of the station, or the safety of passengers or staff. Bear in mind that there was a knife that had just been used to stab someone at large, and that it was 11pm on a Saturday night. A Service Manager who is not even there can not possibly know better than the staff on site whether the station needs to close.

RMT has rightly demanded answers about this and a guarantee that it won't happen again. But management don't yet seem to understand what the problem is. Either that or they are closing ranks.

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Low Standards

Published on: Sun, 08/04/2018 - 20:08

When Friday evening's passengers read their free Evening Standard, they read that the workforce getting them to where they were going was infested with 'extremists' and terrorists.

Yes, Tory government security minister Ben Wallace had announced that they would be rooting out the extremists who work on the transport system. No wonder Friday's late turn staff were getting nervous looks from numerous passengers.

The logic of this scaremongering was played out over the weekend, when a Muslim member of staff at London Bridge was harangued and verbally abused by a passenger who was (literally) reading out the article to him and demanding to know what he was going to do about it.

Adding insult to injury, Wallace also said that autistic people are vulnerable to being turned into terrorists, and that the government was 'seizing' them - ignorant, patronising and alarmist towards our autistic workmates and passengers.

This is not just the sloppy journalism we have come to expect from the Standard - it is incitement to abuse and attack staff. It is intolerable. We want Tube bosses to tell George Osborne's rag that the company will not allow its distribution on our premises unless it stops abusing its privileged access to encourage people to look on staff with suspicion and hostility.

Tubeworker topics

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HOT mess

Published on: Wed, 05/07/2017 - 21:06

Union safety reps have been telling LU for some time now that the "HOT procedure" for identifying suspect packages needs improving.

LU seem to have tacitly admitted that existing procedures are inadequate, but their changes make things worse. Rather than reviewing the "HOT procedure" and looking for ways to improve it, they've simply imposed an additional instruction that members of staff look inside suspicious bags and cases! So if we identify something as suspicious, we're now expected to start rifling around inside it.

Tubeworker strongly reiterates unions' instructions to their members not to comply with this dangerous instruction.

Tubeworker topics

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Staff Presence

Published on: Sat, 27/05/2017 - 16:58

In the wake of the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, station staff have been asked to wear our hi-vis vests permanently while on duty. LU says this is to "reassure" passengers about "staff presence".

Might it not be more reassuring to actually address the issue of how many staff there are, rather than merely changing our outfits to make us more visible?

Since the 7/7 bombings in London, LU has cut thousands of jobs, massively reducing the frontline staffing level. These cuts should be reversed! We can't reassure our passengers about staff presence if there aren't enough staff present.

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Solidarity against terror and racism

Published on: Wed, 22/03/2017 - 22:07

Tubeworker sends its sympathies and condolences to the families of those killed and injured in today's attack at Westminster.

As we write, the identity of the attacker is not public, nor their political affiliations. The police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack. Whatever they are, there is no justification for the kind of wanton, brutal attack they carried out.

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues at Westminster station in particular, whose role in the aftermath of the incident has been praised. Their role shows the vital necessity for properly staffed stations, with staffed control rooms.

If the attacker is, or is assumed to be, Muslim, there is also a need to stand together against racist reprisals that seek to collectively blame and attack all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority.

Tubeworker topics

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Defend the London Bridge 3!

Published on: Mon, 27/02/2017 - 11:15

Two members of London Bridge station staff have been disciplined, and a third summarily dismissed, after they, and another member of staff (who was pregnant), were assaulted by a fare evader.

An RMT statement says: "The three members, Lee Cornell, Saeed Souissi and Dave Sharp have been subject to disciplinary sanctions including summary dismissal, suspended dismissal and a 52 week final warning [respectively] after having to deal with an abusive, violent, fare evading passenger at the station. London Underground showed complete disregard for its own Staff Assault Policy & Procedures and these members have been wrongly punished and treated deplorably by the Company."

As one local activist put it, "LU disregarded the fact Lee and two other staff were physically and verbally assaulted by the customer Lee is accused of accosting. Lee was punched twice and had his glasses stolen by this person."

Station staff on the London Bridge Area are being balloted for strikes to win Lee's reinstatement and justice for Saeed and Dave. If the company don't do the right thing, the ballot will have to spread.

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North Greenwich Terror Alert

Published on: Mon, 24/10/2016 - 23:37

A controlled explosion was carried out on a suspect package at North Greenwich Tube station on 20 October, highlighting the ongoing possibility of a further terrorist atrocity on London Underground. Nobody was injured this time and the diligence and professionalism of the workers involved must be recognised.

On 7/7, frontline London Underground staff were amongst the first to respond, rushing to incident scenes, arranging and facilitating emergency service response, and evacuating passengers to safety at stations across London.

However, at North Greenwich, Tubeworker understands that the station was understaffed, and the control room was shut. This is a direct result of London Underground cutting hundreds of front line staff who were once responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Workers at North Greenwich responded excellently, but this situation could have turned out very differently. Tube bosses' job cuts and de-staffing of control rooms has made the Tube less safe.

This is the second recent incident on the Jubilee Line extension, following Canning Town, where LU's staffing cuts have been implicated. Fortunately, no-one has died. But the ever-present risk is that cuts will kill.

RMT and TSSA's upcoming ballots for strikes and action short against job cuts are absolutely vital, as the first stage of a renewed fightback for safe staffing.

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