Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge.
As a society we should be always striving to move forward, but when it comes to transport strikes we tend to just grind to a halt. There have been no great strides with industrial relations, and if anything they are just as unproductive as ever, especially at Transport for London. Other countries have innovated on this broken system; it has led to an end to strikes; and London could do the same.
The executives at TfL are trying to push through massive savings at a record pace by modernising the service, and the unions will stubbornly oppose even the most sensible changes. This tension often leads to strike action, bringing disruption to millions of lives across London.
With Mayor Sadiq Khan stretching TfL’s budget to its absolute limits we should expect many more strikes if nothing changes. The Mayor has also recently caved to the unions, reversing a massive savings program to prevent several days of strike. This capitulation proved to the union that this Mayor is weak, and cares more about public opinion polls than the future of London Transport.
Commuter misery is effectively used as a bargaining chip in industrial relations, and often for trivial reason. The last strike on the Central Line was around the movement of eight drivers from one depot to another. Does that warrant a strike? Probably not, but the unions are just using every tool at their disposal.
There is an alternative system where unions would be given a less disruptive, more powerful way to represent their members. In my most recent report Struck Out 2: Judgement Day I proposed a series of recommendations that would ban strikes and replace them with binding pendulum arbitration. This system is very similar to Taylor Law, which has been used to dramatically reduce the number of strikes in New York State.
Binding pendulum arbitration allows every dispute to be resolved by an independent judge, forgoing the need to strike. The judge is given a proposal from the unions and the TfL execs, and the judge chooses the most sensible solution. This encourages both sides to bring forward the most reasonable proposal. The fact that the decision is binding means neither party can try to renegotiate it. Most importantly this system allows for strikes to be banned as they serve no legal purpose.
The government is changing the Trade Unions Act to require 50 per cent turnout for strike ballots. It is good the government is trying to address this obvious problem, but we want them to go even further. This turnout requirement will have little effect and only further legitimize needless strikes. Binding pendulum arbitration is the only way to truly prevent strikes while protecting the rights of workers.