LONDON’S transport network could be thrown into chaos this summer after tube drivers voted in favour of strike action.
A walk-out could spark the worst underground disruption since the two-day strike last June that left thousands of workers stranded.
Rail union RMT’s members voted by more than 90 per cent to strike over a “continued threat to jobs and safe working conditions and in support of a decent pay increase this year”.
The union now has the right to vote for a full strike or other industrial action. No dates have been set.
The news will come as a blow to the new coalition government, which is preparing deep cuts in public spending to stem Britain’s out-of-control budget deficit. The strike threat will be seen as a warning that the unions are in a bellicose mood.
Central to the tube dispute is the controversial public-private partnership between Transport for London (TFL) – funded by the taxpayer – and privately owned Tube Lines (TL).
TL was brought in to oversee urgent upgrade work to the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern lines but has come in for fierce criticism for falling behind.
TFL took control of TL this month after paying its shareholders £310m for their equity. The structure of the company will remain in place but workers fear cuts will be made by cancelling planned line closures and freezing pay.
An RMT spokesman told City A.M. that Mayor of London Boris Johnson could have stripped TL of its contract without buying the shares, allowing it to overhaul the upgrade work at a fraction of the cost.
A TL spokesman said: “We have tabled an acceptable pay offer and we remain committed to continuing our negotiations and avert strike action which would cause unnecessary disruption to the travelling public.”
TL is the second major British firm to agree to strike action in a week. BT workers unanimously backed a strike ballot over pay after rejecting a two per cent rise. Communication Workers Union members will now vote on whether to escalate the dispute to the first strike action since BT was privatised in 1984.
Meanwhile, Unite has increased strike pay for British Airways (BA) cabin crew on the picket lines as talks between the two are postponed.
The news comes as BA and Unite bosses were absent from the UK over the weekend suspending the possibility of an end to the dispute. Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley flew to Cyprus for a holiday, while BA chief Willie Walsh is at a Berlin conference.