JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, on the increasingly bitter dispute between staff and management over pensions for tram drivers
The trades union representing Croydon’s tram drivers has handed the network’s management notice of three days of strikes next month: Wednesday May 1, Thursday May 9 and Thursday May 23. And the union issued a warning of a summer of strike action on the trams.
ASLEF members on Croydon Tramlink went on strike on March 28 for the first time, in a dispute over pay and conditions, and while the union says it has tried to maintain contact with the tram operators, they add, “They have refused to do so and are not prepared to change their offer in any way.”
“ASLEF is ready for talks at any time,” Finn Brennan, the union’s district organiser, said.
“It is now up to management to make an improved offer so that a summer of strike action on Croydon Tramlink can be avoided.”
With London elections just a year away, a long-running, niggling dispute with workers on part of the capital’s public transport system will do little for Sadiq “Son of a Bus Driver” Khan’s reputation as a moderator, after previous pledges to keep Transport for London strike-free.
The problem that the Mayor of London has, however, is that the management of Croydon’s trams is not in Transport for London’s, or his, direct control. FirstGroup, the multi-national transport giant which holds the Great Western Railway and South Western Railway franchises, operate the system on behalf of TfL.
The company has been under the cosh financially for some time. Under the leadership of Tim O’Toole, the former head of London Underground, First Group has not managed to pay its shareholders a dividend since 2013, and last May the American was ousted as CEO after the company had racked up annual losses of £327million.
Not that such underperformance ever affected the blue-chip salary package for O’Toole, or his successor as company chief executive, Matthew Gregory.
With pension fund deficits for rail operators becoming an increasing concern, as this week’s national network franchise announcements revealed, First Group are trying to claw back on some of the terms paid to their tram drivers.
Brennan and the tram drivers say that is not acceptable.
“It is plain that First Group have the same contempt for their staff as they have for the people of Croydon,” Brennan said yesterday.
“They pay their chief executive a basic wage of £635,000 plus a pension contribution of 15 per cent and an annual bonus of 150 per cent of his salary. They have closed their final salary pension scheme, costing low-paid staff tens of thousands of pounds over their working life. Their key aim is to provide ‘shareholder value’, rather than to provide decent public service and fair pay and conditions.
“Management believe that after one day of strike action, staff will simply roll over and give up. They are very wrong.
“ASLEF members are determined to fight for a fair deal which delivers a real terms pay rise and improvements in working conditions to reduce the constant fatigue and stress our members suffer.”
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