Back to Work

Last night, I returned to duty in my proper job, as a London Underground ‘Night Tube’ station supervisor. These days, the official title is ‘Customer Service Supervisor’, but I prefer it if you have some idea of what I actually do ie. supervise a station, rather than imagining that I’m some kind of whip-cracker in the complaints department.

The last shift I did was on Halloween weekend, when one of the toughest challenges was distinguishing the passengers who were actually injured and bleeding from those who were simply wearing gory make-up. I have been working on London Underground stations for 20 years, and I would not have stuck at it if I did not enjoy it and value it. But cancer surgery and follow-up treatment were not compatible with the demands of the job, so since the start of November I have been either off sick or carrying out ‘light duties’ (in my case, planning a new set of hosted visits by autistic people to London Underground). As recently reported, I have not yet fully recovered from said treatment, but I have recovered sufficiently to make a start at returning to work. And working in a job which has – thanks to the past efforts of the union – 100% sick pay, I have been able to decide when to return to work on the basis of my condition not my income.

I arranged my return to work at a ‘case conference’ a couple of weeks ago with my manager, a ‘People Management Adviser’ (oh yes), and my trade union representative (hello Julie!). Seriously people, be in a union: have a rep, plus the combined power of thousands of your workmates, at your side through the tough times. And don’t give me the excuse that there isn’t a union in your workplace – as soon as you join one, there is! 

At the case conference, I asked for reduced hours on my return to work, which management agreed. So last night, I worked the first three hours of my usual shift, booking on at my usual time of 22:30. It was lovely to be back with colleagues, helping the station run smoothly, waking up inebriated people who were napping on the platform bench, and chivvying others to their last train (the station I work at has national rail services that do not run all night as well as the Tube services that do). As expected, the Bodily Fluids Interception Team had calls on their services.

I’ll be working the reduced hours for the next two weekends, then will review it with my manager to see if I am ready to do more. That period of time takes me past my next appointment with my oncologist and the usual six-week recovery period from radiotherapy. This phased return to work (without loss of pay) is both eminently sensible and an example of a reasonable adjustment to my working conditions. The law requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers – which includes those with, or recovering from, cancer. It is your boss’s responsibility to work out what adjustments to make, but I heartily recommend working out what you need and asking for it. Shorter hours? More breaks? A quieter, less busy, less brightly-lit workspace? Not having to do heavy duties that aggravate your wounds or scars? Avoiding substances and environments that may cause infection? Paid time off for follow-up medical appointments? Dropping the silly performance and attendance targets? Seems reasonable to me. Go for it.

It was rather a pleasant experience to review my leave entitlement and see how much time I will have off during the rest of this year. Yes, the leave I was supposed to take while I was sick has been accrued and reallocated to later this year, in addition to the leave I am scheduled to have this year anyway. I may only just be back, but it will not be long before I am off again. Nice.

Even the reduced shift, though, has left me feeling rather knackered. This is going to be a long process. I’m planning on returning to the gym and the swimming pool this week, and then to yoga and cycling shortly after. I have a plan. I have rights, I have solidarity from workmates and I have a powerful trade union. But I still have pain. 

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