Transport for London (TfL) is set to furlough a large number of its staff, either until 31 May or for the minimum three weeks.
The government is reported to be refusing to help shore up TfL’s finances unless part of its workforce is furloughed to reduce the financial pressure.
Transport Commissioner for London Mike Brown said: “I’m incredibly proud of our colleagues’ commitment and determination to run the transport network to serve the NHS and other Londoners making absolutely essential journeys.
“Londoners have listened to the advice of the Mayor and the government and are staying at home to help reduce the spread of the virus. This is evidenced by the huge reduction in people using our network, which is helping to save lives.
“But that has also hugely reduced our fares and other revenue. We are having constructive conversations with the government about the support that we need so that we can continue to serve the city effectively. Where appropriate, we intend to use the government’s Job Retention Scheme that is designed to support staff whose work has been paused because of the virus. This will mean that we can carry on the vital work that needs to be done during the pandemic and support the national effort to beat it.”
With the number of tube passengers down 95 per cent, and with fares and advertising revenue normally making up around 80 per cent of TfL’s revenue, managers will start deciding who can be released to go on the Job Retention Scheme (furlough). Those who do get furloughed will be on full salary, with TfL topping up the government’s 80 per cent.
Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) general secretary Manuel Cortes hailed the “responsible approach” taken by TfL in topping up salaries of furloughed staff and in updating advice in relation to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to provide masks for staff who cannot meet with two metre social distancing and come into contact with the public. But the union called on government to do more, especially given recent cuts which have made the situation more difficult for the transport authority.
With some 20 per cent of TfL staff already off work due to either sickness or self-isolation, it is expected that staff in a range of roles will be furloughed from 27 April until 31 May, focusing on those where work has temporarily ceased or significantly reduced and those not in safety-critical roles. It is not yet clear what number this will total.
TSSA is demanding that a voluntary approach is taken towards seeking furlough and that no one is disadvantaged as a result of being furloughed. The union is also asking for vulnerable groups and those with childcare responsibilities to be considered as priority cases for furlough.
Manuel Cortes said: “Transport for London is taking a massive financial hit with loss of revenue and footfall, not helped with the loss of government funding taken from them a couple of years back resulting in daily cash flow now being hit extremely hard.
“The government has made it clear that it will only give financial help if staff are furloughed. There are clearly some roles and functions which can be temporarily suspended, but our concern is about the safe running of the network and its ability to respond flexibly to changes in passenger numbers, while maintaining the approach of only essential staff being physically required in work premises.
“Our union is calling for those who are furloughed not to suffer any detriment – either now or in the future – as a result of this move under the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19.
“We applaud TfL for taking a responsible approach in committing to top up salaries of furloughed staff to 100 per cent – an approach we expect all good employers to take. We expect all staff – whether furloughed or not – to retain their job security and benefits throughout this difficult period.
“We also welcome the fact that new guidelines on the use of Personal Protective Equipment are being issued which should provide greater protection for our members.
“TfL is vital to the successful running of the whole of London. We expect government to recognise this, provide the necessary funding required and also back the call by the Mayor of London for facial coverings to be worn across public transport.”
The final details, including how many staff are likely to be furloughed, what process will apply for identifying job roles and who is likely to be selected for furlough, are being worked through jointly by the company and unions.