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Commuters rush home ahead of strike

Published 08/07/2015

Commuters will face travel chaos when staff stage a 24-hour Tube strike
Commuters will face travel chaos when staff stage a 24-hour Tube strike

The rush hour started early in London as commuters left work to beat a Tube strike which will cripple services until Friday morning.

Picket lines were mounted outside stations by members of four trade unions involved in a 24-hour walkout in a row over the new all-night Tubes, due to start in mid-September.

Business groups said the action will cost the capital millions of pounds, while commuters face a difficult day getting to and from work tomorrow.

LU's boss warned that the strike will cause "big disruption" in the capital, but branded it "totally unnecessary".

Managing director Mike Brown said in a message to passengers that the company had "strained every muscle" to put together a "remarkably fair" pay offer for the introduction of the new Tubes.

Services started running down late this afternoon ahead of the official walkout from 6.30pm, which coincided with a 48-hour stoppage by workers on First Great Western which will disrupt trains to and from London Paddington.

Workers involved in the two separate disputes staged a rally outside Paddington.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Aslef, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) and Unite have been in dispute over pay being offered for the new all-night Tubes.

Managers have tabled a "final" offer, including an average 2% rise this year, at least RPI inflation for each of the next two years and £2,000 for drivers on the new service.

Transport for London said extra bus and river services will run, but warned that roads and all public transport will be much busier than usual.

Mr Brown said: " The night Tube is an exciting and essential new chapter in the history of London Underground and our city. It will cut night-time journeys by an average of 20 minutes, with some cut by more than an hour.

"It will also play a vital role in opening up London's night-time economy, supporting almost 2,000 permanent jobs and boosting the economy by £360 million. Strongly supported by customers and businesses alike, it is the mark of a modern and progressive world capital.

"We are not asking staff to work unlimited nights and weekends. In fact, no-one is being asked to work any more hours and most staff will not be affected at all. For the majority of those who are, night Tube will mean a few extra nights per year within their existing working week.

"We have recruited 137 additional train drivers to allow all night operation and reduce the impact on our existing drivers. However, in the short term we will ask some train operators to do more. After a short transitional period, train operators will have the choice whether or not to work the night Tube shifts."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Despite strenuous efforts by union negotiators to press London Underground to address the issues of fairness, safety, work/life balance and equality at the heart of this dispute, they have come up with nothing in the talks."

Finn Brennan, Aslef's organiser on the Tube, said: "The responsibility for this strike and the disruption that it will cause rests squarely with London Underground management.

"They squandered the window of opportunity to resolve this dispute by refusing to move their position in the slightest for three months and then demanding that all four trade unions accept an offer in one afternoon.

"We will be ready to return to the negotiating table on Friday morning to ensure that further action can be avoided."

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a Commons motion expressing dismay at the "disgraceful" treatment of Tube workers and calling on the mayor of London to withdraw the "imposition" of night working.

London mayor Boris Johnson said: "This is a totally unnecessary, cynically timed and politically motivated strike that will cause huge disruption to Londoners and to businesses.

"I think most reasonable people will look at the offer that's on the table from London Underground and find it impossible to fathom why the unions are rejecting it.

"I also think it's extraordinary that the union leadership hasn't even put the offer back to their members to formally consider.

"The fact is that we are going to get on with the night Tube and ultimately this strike will achieve nothing.

"Londoners will no doubt show resolve and resourcefulness in getting to where they need to go and TfL staff will be doing their utmost to assist them and to keep our city moving."

John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Small firms are naturally deeply concerned about the impact strike action will have on their ability to do business. Last year, a snap poll found two days of Tube strike action cost London's small businesses around £600 million."

Some underground passengers in central London tried to beat the last-minute rush before services ground to a halt only to find that Oxford Circus station was closed.

Transport for London (TfL) said it had imposed crowd control measures at the station, meaning it was temporarily closed and re-opened to prevent overcrowding on the platforms.

Of the big crowds which had gathered at the busy station, a spokesman said: "It is hard to say these crowds are significantly larger than normal because of the strike."

Earlier Wimbledon organisers had warned tennis fans relying on the Tube to leave "as soon as possible" during Andy Murray's match.

Shortly before 4pm, with Murray two sets up, a message on Centre Court's scoreboard read: "Due to industrial action, TfL advises that Underground services will be severely disrupted from the early evening onwards.

"Anyone relying on the Tube for onward connections should consider leaving as soon as possible."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "This is an unnecessary strike that threatens massive disruption and benefits no one.

"We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers, families and commuters who want to go about their lives without disruption. I urge the strikers to accept the good offer that employers have made and get back to work."

As the strike began to take hold TfL tweeted: " We've offered our staff an average salary increase of 2%, a 1% increase in 2016/17, a £500 launch bonus and a £2K bonus for train operators."

Unions claim they are striking over issues such as safety and work/life balance rather than just pay and working hours.

TfL said that all tubes had stopped running by 9pm and warned passengers that no trains are set to run on Thursday.

Extra bus and river services are being laid on and roadworks will be suspended "wherever possible" but travellers will face routes that are "much busier than usual".

London Overground, DLR, TfL Rail and trams will all operate a normal service.

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