Tube Staff to Strike Over Night Shift Work

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A 24-hour strike will start tonight (8th July) as unions representing 20,000 employees failed to reach an agreement with London Underground over night shift pay and working conditions.

Transport for London has said that additional means of public transport will be available for the duration of the strike.

Why are the Tube staff on strike?

The Tube staff are striking due to the new 24-hour Night Tube service, which is due to start in September. The unions have rejected an increased pay offer from London Underground on the basis that it is ‘divisive’, and claimed that the organisation was failing to address the safety and welfare issues that night shift work can cause.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said that “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 this afternoon.”

What are the issues associated with night shift work?

Night shifts have long been known to have a negative impact on a worker’s health and wellbeing. The British Medical Journal analysed 34 separate studies and concluded that workers on night shifts were slightly more likely to suffer from coronary ‘events’ or stroke. Common issues include fatigue and sleeping difficulties, amongst many others.

So what can you do as an employer to reduce the issues around night shift work? Acas advises the following:

  • Ensure that a clear shift management policy is in place. Assess the risks of the shift work through consultation with the workers to make improvements as necessary.
  • Consider the type of work your employees will carry out at night. This may mean avoiding dangerous or demanding tasks where possible.
  • Allow for proper recovery time between night shifts.
  • Rotate the shift patterns. The Health and Safety Executive advises that every two to three days is best, whilst weekly or fortnightly rotations are the worst for workers.

It is unclear exactly what London Underground offered to the unions (although the press has been quick to seize on the rejected pay increases), so we do not know if the breakdown of the talks was due to the proposed working conditions, pay or something else. Regardless, this action has the potential to highlight the importance and necessity of fair and safe working conditions for workers everywhere.

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