Women Working Shifts

At this year’s TUC Women’s Conference, one of the motions we debated was about working shifts, particularly women’s safety on late shifts. This was my contribution to the debate.

You can watch the video of this speech here.

I’m Janine Booth, RMT, and I’ve worked on London Underground for over 25 years.

We work shifts: nights, weekends, lates, and shifts so early that they come under the scope of this motion because they involve travelling to work during the night. Shiftwork has a detrimental impact on our health, life expectancy, and relationships.

Staff who start work before the first train arrives or finish after the last train leaves are provided with a staff taxi – but it only takes you to the nearest station to you home, leaving you walking the remainder of the journey, at 2, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Our employer – which, I remind you, is a Labour administration at London’s City Hall – refuses to run the taxis to our front doors.

Working late and night shifts is often the time when most abuse and assault of transport staff takes place. I worked for five years on Night Tube. RMT ran a survey of union members working on Night Tube. Every single woman (and a significant minority of men) said that they had been sexually assaulted or abused on duty, many of them more than once. Every single woman.

London Underground does not employ enough staff on stations. Many of us work alone, and too often there are no station staff present to help other staff, such as cleaners or train drivers, when they are harassed or attacked – or to prevent that happening in the first place. But our employer – which, I remind you again, is a Labour administration at London’s City Hall – plans to cut station staffing even further. Starved of funding by the Tory government, it plans not to fight back but to pass on those cuts, removing over 500 station staff posts. It acknowledges that this will lead to an increase in lone working, but argues that this is mitigated by the use of Body Worn Cameras. Well, sisters, I don’t want our women workers to be filmed being assaulted, I want us to not be assaulted.

That – along with threats to our pensions and other working conditions – is why ten thousand of us took strike action last week, and will do so again. Please support us.

There is a danger that we speak a lot about how bad things are, but less about what we want done about it. Legendary anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass said that: power concedes nothing without a demand. So let’s not just ask for more awareness, or settle for victim-blaming nonsense like being told how to avoid being assaulted. Instead, let’s makes specific demands and fight for them.

We are fighting for more station staff, for door-to-door staff taxis, for less anti-social working hours. That will benefit our women passengers as well as women workers. Unity can win.

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