London Dunderground…Again


(photo courtesy of TFL’s press images)

The Epicurienne Day Job has zero to do with food or travel, apart from having to travel to and from work each day on The Dunderground. The frequent long waits on one of the lines I use are frustrating. I can never predict when I will reach work. If I’m running late at the home end, sometimes everything will go to plan and I’ll get to work early. But only sometimes. On the other hand, if I leave home early because of a deadline or early meeting, sod’s law dictates that everything will be delayed and I’ll arrive at work late and flustered.

As many of you know, The Epicurienne Day Job involves HR so it’s safe to say I know a fair amount about the devastating effects of the current recession on good, hardworking people. We’ve lost a lot of staff to redundancy due to the domino effect of incoming projects being cancelled or failing to materialise because a client has pulled the plug. Our directors have taken pay cuts and the remaining staff have had a 0% pay increase at a time when the cost of living has risen, in spite of a cut to VAT and talk of deflation. As are many others, I am much worse off financially because of this, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I kept my job. So far, anyway. And yet, in January, tube fares went up but the economists talk about deflation. How about telling that to London Underground?

Last week we had two days of tube strike in London. Why? Because tube staff think that in the current climate they are worth a 5% pay increase for fewer hours. FEWER hours, people. I mean to say. WHAT??? Do these folk not read the papers?

Naturally, there was mayhem. Those who could, drove, creating nightmarish traffic conditions. Others cycled. One colleague complained that on her overground train which was already a human sardine can, one man brought his bike ONTO the train. Methinks he should have just hopped on it and ridden instead of taking up valuable sardine space. Then one of our directors had his state-of-the-art cycle nicked while he was at the theatre, to which he’d had to cycle because there was no tube.  Meanwhile, I walked to and from work on both days, clocking up 2.5 hours a day of exercise. And one large, bleeding blister. But the buses were full and bus stops overcrowded and the overground trains are nowhere near me so my Tube Replacement Service simply had to be my feet.

On the second day of the strike, there was apparently a reduced service on my line, but when I walked past the stop nearest home, its shuttered gate was firmly locked, so I kept going. When I finally reached the stop nearest work, it was open. Somewhat confused, I stopped to read the update sign. Just then, a striking tube worker, sat cross-legged on the ground, said:

“take the tube at your peril today! No safety staff are working.”

Hrmph. That really ticked me off.

“What you’re doing is greedy.” I retorted. “Most people are happy to just be in paid employment right now and you want a pay rise? Unbelievable.”

This wasn’t exactly what Tube Woman wanted to hear. With venom, she spat back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Actually, lady, I know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.” Or so I thought.

End of exchange, I stomped off, toe bleeding, to work.  

Then yesterday, the man who sells papers and soft drinks at the tube station told me he’d heard there were going to be more strikes. This is a man who lives outside of London and who therefore had to get up at 3.30 each morning of the strike in order to open his shop at 7.30am, not to mention his lengthy commute home. He’d had about 4 hours sleep each of those two days. Needless to say, he wasn’t too impressed about the potential of a repeat performance, and I was seriously considering applying to be a tube driver because they earn more than I do and get guaranteed pay rises each year and a tonne of holiday and free travel on public transport and additional days off whenever they feel like striking, which seems always to be when the weather’s nice. So I told him this and as I did, his friendly face froze as his eyes moved to a point behind me. I turned around, to find a tube driver in his nice blue syntheticky uniform. Woops. He’d heard my moan and smiled.

“It’s really not that bad being a tube driver.”

“That’s what I was saying. You’re much better off than I am and I figure, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Tube Driver’s grin widened. “Yep, and our job security is top.”

The way he said it was spiteful. Boastful jerk. Ticked off yet again, I stomped off to work wondering how on earth it is that I have four sets of letters after my name, yet struggle every month whilst a tube driver laughs all the way to the bank. Even Monsieur seems to think it’s a joke that tube drivers earn more than I do. Yep, I’m laughing. Oh yes, I’m laughing hard at that one. NOT.

So this morning I googled London Underground to see what I could expect to take home if I worked for them. Here’s a typical TFL benefits package:

TFL Benefits
  • 30 days annual leave plus 8 days stats (That’s 9 more than my current entitlement. Oh, the travel possibilities with those extra days!)
  • Self and nominee oystercard giving free travel on London Underground, buses, Docklands light railway, Trams (NB not contractual benefit) (that would save me somewhere between £1,032.00 and £2,720 per annum multiplied by 2 users)
  • Private Medical insurance if over the threshold on payband one (that would save another £600.00 per annum)
  • Discounted Eurostar travel (more beans saved, especially as Monsieur and I are high-end Eurostar users)
  • TFL Pension fund – contributory, final salary scheme (5% employee, 15% employer contribution) (our firm does 5% and 5% and it is not a final salary scheme)
  • 75% reimbursement 75% of an Annual Season Ticket for National Rail travel (which would make train travel affordable again instead of ridiculous)

And we mustn’t forget the 5% pay increase for FEWER hours that will soon be added to this list because the RMT always gets its way. Nor should we overlook the benefit of belonging to a highly effective union. I think I’ve just about convinced myself to send off an application to work for the TFL ‘cos in this climate, every penny counts and as I obviously can’t beat ’em, I just might have to join ’em.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Tammy says:

    I’m sorry for your dealings with your struggling economy, but KUDOS to you for telling the cross-legged Tube Woman what you thought. In addition, DOUBLE KUDOS for walking to work! That’ll show ’em! Wear comfortable shoes and you will feel empowered as you trek to work demonstrating your self-reliance. That can make all the difference.

    We have unions and strikes here in the U.S., but I don’t understand all of that. What I do understand is that even when a person’s needs are met and they are without want, there is still the desire to “deserve” more…an entitlement.

    Stick with your HR job if possible. The Tube environment with unions, strikes, sardines and jerks sounds depressing.

    Best wishes to you!


    1. epicurienne says:

      Tammy – thank you for your comment. The irony is that I was wearing comfy shoes, but 1hr10 will give me a blister any old how because I have cheap feet. It didn’t hurt, really, just looked like a slasher had tried to cut my toe off.
      The deserving more issue is prevalent always with the tube strikes here. They have us all over a barrel, because their union will keep putting strike dates on the calendar until they get what they want. Meanwhile, a visitor to London can expect to pay £4.00 for a single tube ticket in the most central zone. It’s daylight robbery.
      Yes, HR is where I’m at right now and I’m staying. I get on well with my boss and colleagues, so in spite of the hell of this year, I’m going to stick with it. Can’t imagine calling women like that cross-legged picketeer my colleague. When I think of all the people we’ve lost this year to redundancy, the attitude of the striking tube staff makes me quite ill.


  2. w1kkp says:

    HR is never an easy place to work but in this period of time? Has to be on everyone’s list of least favorite places to be. Except in my case where positions located deep underground involving millions of people in tight spaces and moving vehicles (& an occasional terrorist target) would make me rank HR, the second worst place to work.

    Love your spirit, though!! Forgot to tell you that I did read one of the two Julia books…her “My Life in France”…so enjoyed it!! I am amazed she didn’t die sooner due to her insistence on getting each recipe exactly right. French portions may be small but if you are working on a bread recipe for two years? That’s alot of bread!


    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Pat, tell me about it. HR may be bad, but being stuck underground, even as a commuter, next to twitchy people fiddling with mobile phones and backpacks, makes most of us WANT to get off and walk. And occasionally, I do just that, rather than risk being blown to smithereens, especially when we Londoners saw the effect on people who were near the trains when they blew up. One of my colleagues lost his best friend to the bus that was blown up in central London that day. The fear that follows that sort of experience is unquantifiable, but we have to keep going, so we do.
      On a happier note, I’m pleased you’ve enjoyed Julia’s book. I bought it in hardback, looked after the cover and now it’s a happy book in a very special place at home. I loved learning more about her personality and personal challenges. It gave her a whole new dimension and is to be recommended to anyone who hears “Julia Child” and thinks of no more than a gallumphing chef whacking around pieces of beef.


  3. planetross says:

    You should get a “I mind the gap between your TFL ears” t-shirt. hee hee!


    1. epicurienne says:

      Hey, PR, you could make one for your tee-shirt business! With a witty PR picture of a big, black tunnel between the ears, and signals for ears. Sounds like a bestseller to me…


  4. kavey says:

    Fantastic post and I totally identify with your sense of irritation and outrage over demands for yet more pay, yet less hours and even better package – even worse in the current climate.

    A friend of mine noticed how great the package is, just as you did. He’s not got any academic qualifications nor was he working in any high-flying job but was told he was “over qualified”. He reckoned it may have been because they figured out he wouldn’t be one to join/ support the unions nor play the game as so many of them do.

    I raise my hat to those tube workers who resist the pressure and continue working when their greedy colleagues strike over the most facile demands.


    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Kavey
      I second your support of those Underground workers who keep going instead of turning the greedy way of their colleagues. We must be one of the most expensive transport systems in the world, yet for the consumer, we get little in return, apart from constant fare rises as our own salaries stagnate or drop. Grrrr.


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