LU urges RMT members to vote ‘no’ in alcohol ballot

06 February 2015

London Underground (LU) has written to its train operators, urging RMT members to vote 'no' in the strike ballot called by the RMT leadership after the dismissal of a train operator for failing alcohol tests.

The dismissed train operator, an RMT member on the Northern line, failed two unannounced random breath alcohol tests at Morden depot in June last year. Several other employees were tested during the same period, in accordance with standard union-agreed testing protocol, and all others passed the test.

London Underground operates a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol in order to keep customers and staff safe. This policy was created by LU and union partners more than 20 years ago and every employee is briefed on it and the reasons behind it.

Had the train operator taken control of a train, as he intended that day, he would have put his customers' and colleagues' lives in danger.

The RMT leadership have since alleged that this result was skewed by his diabetic condition. This is impossible. LU's industry-leading 'fuel cell' breathalyzer equipment is not affected in any way by diabetes. It is affected by an individual's alcohol consumption choices.

Nigel Holness, Operations Director - Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, London Underground, said:

`Our zero tolerance approach to the consumption of alcohol reflects our legal obligation and moral duty to protect our customers and employees. You wouldn't let someone who had been drinking alcohol drive your family in a car, and we don't let people who have been drinking alcohol drive people's families in Tube trains.

`The RMT leadership is asking its members to defend the indefensible. Strike action on this matter would see their members sacrifice pay to support one member who has admitted that he came to work - to operate a busy Northern line train - having consumed alcohol. I would urge RMT members, our staff, to do the right thing, to vote and to vote no.'

LU has reassured staff that the RMT ballots are conducted by an independent organisation - the Electoral Reform Service - and are fully confidential. No ballot paper can be traced back to any individual.

Notes to Editors

  • This case went through the full disciplinary hearing and appeals process as well as a separate independent Director's Review. LU explored in detail the suggestion that diabetes could impact on the breathalyser result, which included taking guidance from Occupational Health specialists
  • Diabetes produces acetone in the bloodstream, which can affect some other types of breathalyzer. But a fuel cell breathalyzer, the industry-leading equipment used by LU, is not affected by acetone, which it can't detect
  • LU doesn't test for alcohol in urine because this is not a 'real-time' test: it doesn't show what's in a person's bloodstream at that moment
  • LU's tests are fair, accurate and industry-recognised. They meet legal obligations, which are policed and monitored closely by the Office of Rail Regulation.