wo full days of Tube strikes were announced on Friday in a huge blow to efforts to get Londoners back to the office.
The RMT has ordered all 10,000 members not to turn up for work on Tuesday March 1 and Thursday March 3, which is expected to force the closure of the entire Underground network.
The dispute is over Transport for London’s plans to axe between 500 and 600 station posts in a bid to save cash, and fears among union members that their pensions could be at risk.
There is the possibility that other unions, including those which represent the majority of Tube drivers, could join the RMT as concern about the threat to pensions is widespread across the Underground’s workforce.
The walkouts will start a minute after midnight and run until a minute to midnight on both of the days.
The announcement will infuriate Mayor Sadiq Khan at a time Tube passenger numbers - and TfL’s fares income - have recovered more slowly than hoped due to Omicron and the work from home advice for a month over Christmas.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Our members will be taking strike action next month because a financial crisis at London Underground has been deliberately engineered by the Government to drive a cuts’ agenda which would savage jobs, services, safety and threaten their working conditions and pensions.
“These are the very same transport staff praised as heroes for carrying London through covid for nearly two years, often at serious personal risk, who now have no option but to strike to defend their livelihoods.
“The politicians need to wake up to the fact that transport staff will not pay the price for this cynically engineered crisis. In addition to the strike action RMT is coordinating a campaign of resistance with colleagues from other unions impacted by this threat.
“The union remains available for talks aimed at resolving the dispute.”
Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the RMT has today announced strike action, as no proposals have been tabled on pensions or terms and conditions, and nobody has or will lose their jobs as a result of the proposals we have set out.
“The devastating impact of the pandemic on TfL finances has made a programme of change urgently necessary and we need the RMT to work with us, rather than disrupting London’s recovery. We’re urging them to do the right thing for London, talk to us and call off this unnecessary action.”
John Dickie, chief executive at business group London First, said: “With another strike announcement, the RMT is playing Russian roulette with the recovery yet again.
“This is a reckless approach at time when the city needs to be pulling together to get people back to offices, restaurants, shops, theatres and more.”
Last year Aslef members voted 98.8 per cent in favour of walkouts if TfL introduced changes to their work benefits without consultation but the union has yet to announce strike dates.
In the RMT ballot in December, 94 per cent of members who took part voted to strike or take action short of a strike – 4,900 voting yes and 307 no. Turnout was 51.7 per cent of 10,084 RMT members entitled to vote.
This is separate to a long-running dispute over the staffing of the Night Tube, which the RMT is set to continue each weekend until June on the Victoria and Central lines.
This week Mr Lord told the TfL board that the Night Tube strike was having minimal impact, with services on both lines able to run through Friday and Saturday nights, though the Central line was reduced from six to two Night Tube trains an hour.
An independent review into TfL’s finances commissioned by Mayor Sadiq Khan before the pandemic said the TfL pension scheme was “expensive and unreformed”, and reforming it could save £100m a year from 2025.
Staff contribute up to five per cent of their pay to their pension pot, with TfL contributing six times the amount.
TfL announced in December that between 500 and 600 posts were set to be axed, with bigger stations in central London likely to bear the brunt. This is part of the cost-saving measures it has been forced to adopt as a result of the collapse in fares income caused by the pandemic.
It said 250 currently vacant station staff posts would not be filled and a further 250 to 350 staff would not be replaced when they retired or left for another job.
This would reduce the total number of station staff on the London Underground from more than 5,000 to 4,500. There were no plans for redundancies.
Under the terms of TfL’s Government bailout last June, it was required to review its pensions. This is being headed by former TUC chief Sir Brendan Barber.
Tfl said it was “just a review” and there were no formal plans for change. “The review remains ongoing and no recommendations have yet been made,” it said.