Tony Devenish, a Conservative on the London Assembly, has been accused by RMT general secretary Mick Lynch of “spouting nonsense”, after he repeated his claims that frequent closures at Lancaster Gate station were being caused by staff actively choosing not to come into work.
Mr Devenish originally accused the station’s staff of “skiving” from their duties in a series of tweets last month.
Those remarks had already sparked anger from Mr Lynch, who wrote to Mr Devenish’s group leader, Neil Garratt, demanding that Mr Devenish apologise.
Mr Lynch had said in his letter: “For a member of the London Assembly to accuse public transport workers who keep our capital moving today and during Covid of being ‘skivers’ is reprehensible and has, understandably, caused considerable hurt and anger amongst my members.”
He said the closures at Lancaster Gate were because the London Underground has “deleted 600 station staff posts from its staffing complement”.
But instead of apologising, Mr Devenish said in an interview with the Standard that he stood by his claim that the station’s closures were down to “skiving”.
“It’s a renowned fact I’m afraid, and it has been for a long time,” he said.
“Everybody will admit this privately but nobody other than a Tory Assembly Member will say it publicly. You look at the fact that it happens every time there is a holiday.”
Addressing Mr Lynch’s point about staff cuts, Mr Devenish insisted: “They are well staffed and very well remunerated. There is no problem.”
In a letter to Mr Devenish after his original comments in May, London’s Transport Commissioner Andy Lord told the Tory politician that his comments were “unacceptable” and that the closures had been caused by “sickness absences” and “action short of strike” by RMT members.
He said this meant staff at Lancaster Gate were sometimes needed at “higher usage” stations.
Mr Devenish said he was not accusing all station staff of being “skivers” and that he had a lot of respect for most of them.
“This is a small number of people. I’m not saying it’s the whole workforce. It’s a small number of the workforce who are behaving in a ridiculous throwback to union practices all over the world in the past.
“It’s costing Londoners an absolute fortune and [is an] inconvenience.”
He added: “I have nothing but admiration for most Tube staff. This is the militant unions, who unfortunately still run our transport system.”
In a challenge to Mayor Sadiq Khan, Mr Devenish said: “What Mr Khan needs to do is reform Transport for London [TfL] – it needs to bring in driverless trains and it needs to get on with doing the job it’s meant to do which is serve Londoners, not serve the unions.”
Approached for comment, Mr Lynch responded: “Tony Devenish is spouting nonsense. RMT wrote to his boss a while back to ask whether his comments about Tube workers being skivers were the official Tory view.
“We’re still waiting for a response. Meanwhile Mr Devenish continues to either be wilfully misleading or just ignorant in imagining away massive Tory cuts to the transport network and droning on about driverless trains when anyone who’s ever looked at it knows they’re a massive waste of money that no one really wants.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “We apologise to customers whose journeys have been affected by the recent issues at Lancaster Gate station.
“We are aware of the inconvenience that station closures can cause and only close them as a last resort, after exhausting all other possible options. However, on some occasions it is unavoidable as certain stations cannot safely remain open without a certain number of staff.
“We are working to address these local issues, are doing everything possible to ensure the station stays open, and are progressing recruitment that was paused during the pandemic.”