It’s kicking off on the London Underground again. The tube unions – Aslef and the RMT – are angry with Transport for London (TfL) bosses because of changes to, erm, water coolers. Really.
The brothers, who have close ties to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have even warned that passengers could face a “summer of delays” as drivers take unscheduled stops to grab a drink. The unions are laying blame on a new water cooler contract, which has apparently seen the “upmarket” TfL office buildings of Palestra House and Westferry Circus being provided with cool, fresh water, while some driver canteens only have taps.
“When your working day is spent in a metal box deep underground, cool clean drinking water isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Finn Brennan, an Aslef organiser said. “TfL rightly reminds passengers to carry water with them in hot weather, but at the same time they are taking away the facilities where drivers can get water from during their duties.
“The inevitable result will be that drivers will be forced to take additional unscheduled breaks, known as PNRs [Personal Needs Relief], to avoid the serious dangers of dehydration. This will mean trains stuck in platforms and additional delays for passengers right across the Underground network.”
Blimey, serious stuff. The RMT, who are now looking to affiliate with Labour, have also chipped in, branding Underground bosses as a “bunch of cheapskates” and calling for Sadiq Khan to get involved.
“You wouldn’t treat a dog the way our members are being treated in this heat,” said Mick Cash, the RMT chief. “The Mayor of London should intervene right now and fix this appalling double standard on the most basic of working conditions.”
TfL have, naturally, played the dispute down. “We fully appreciate the need for our staff to have access to clean drinking water,” an Underground spokesperson said.
“That’s why, despite changes to our water cooler contract, every single member of our staff has access to clean water whenever they need it be it from a water cooler or tap as you’d have at home. If our staff have any concerns, we will of course respond to those taking any appropriate action.”
The Underground unions, since Khan’s election to City Hall in 2016 and Corbyn’s ascendancy this year, have been relatively quiet. Is the water row a sign of bigger things to come?