LONDON (Reuters) - Millions of commuters were preparing for transport chaos from Monday evening as workers on the London Underground rail network plan to hold a two-day strike in a dispute over plans to cut jobs and close ticket offices.
Eleventh-hour talks will be held on Monday between Transport for London (TfL) and the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) in a bid to avert the 48-hour walkout due to begin at 2000 GMT, a spokesman for TfL said.
A similar strike in February brought the network, used by some three million people most days, to a virtual standstill. A second walkout was averted to allow talks to take place but those talks broke down earlier this month.
The strike action follows the March 11 death of RMT leader Bob Crow, whose success in extracting concessions from employers through hard talk and industrial disruption has set the mould for those vying to replace him, trade union experts say.
Another three-day strike has been called from May 5.
TfL, which argues that less than three percent of journeys on the 151-year-old tube network now involve passengers using ticket offices, has said it will run a limited service on some lines, with some stations closed. Extra bus and river boat services will also be added.
“It is going to be a nightmare,” said 54-year-old market researcher Jane, who normally comes in to London for work three days a week but will avoid doing so due to the strikes.
“I do think they need people in the ticket office but I don’t think they should be striking. It is no good for London.”
Architect Stefan Wilson is able to walk to work in the City of London from his home in Wapping so counts himself lucky his commute will be unaffected by the strike action.
“A lot of people are going to be late,” said the 25-year-old. “If you work in an office job it will have less impact. It is going to be worst for people like nurses who cannot do their job from home.”
TfL says its modernization plans, including cutting 953 station jobs, can be achieved without compulsory redundancies or any loss of pay to workers and with the promise stations would remain staffed at all times.
The union says the cuts risk safety and would damage quality of service, and has blamed rail management for the failure of eight weeks of talks. It said it hoped the strikes would lead them to engage in “meaningful and serious talks”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron last week called the strike “unjustified and unacceptable”, saying it would hit millions of families and cause chaos for businesses.
Business lobbies have said previous tube strikes have cost London’s economy up to 50 million pounds ($84 million) a day.
Editing by Lynne O'Donnell