Transport for London (TfL) is paying £10m for staff to work for transport unions under London Mayor Sadiq Khan, as strike days cause chaos for commuters.
The annual cost has doubled since 2015/16, the last year Boris Johnson was mayor. That year 699 members of TfL took paid time off to do union duties, at a cost of £4.4m.
Two years later, this figure had more than doubled to £10.8m, paid to 731 workers, 37 of whom worked for unions full-time.
The exact amount of union work funded by TfL is unknown as the organisation only reports the total number of staff undertaking union duties and the number working more than half of the work week or full-time.
This increase in union funding in 2017/18 coincided with a budget deficit of nearly £1bn.
Mr Khan is the chairman of TfL and the chair of its board. He is responsible for setting out strategy and holding its Commissioner Mike Brown to account.
Strikes have continued since Mr Khan took control of City Hall, including several this year. In April, there was chaos on the District line after Aslef called a strike over the sacking of a tube driver for running through three red lights.
Aslef, which benefits from this TfL staffing budget, also went on strike in October in support of a driver who was dismissed after opening the doors of a tube train while it was moving.
TfL staff are also paid to work for RMT, which held strikes in support of a driver who failed alcohol breath tests twice while at work.
TfL themselves branded some of these strikes “indefensible”.
Last night Keith Prince AM, a Conservative member of the Greater London Authority who sits on the transport committee, accused Sadiq Khan of being “in the pockets of the unions.”
He told The Daily Telegraph: “Londoners want better tubes, not more union reps.
“These statistics would be unacceptable if TfL had balanced books, but the transport budget is nearly £1 billion in the red. At time when the finances are in such dire straits, it is shocking that taxpayers’ money is being wasted in this way.
“It now clearer than ever that Sadiq Khan is in the pockets of the unions.”
In August, the Government published figures revealing there are more than 16,000 full time union officials on the public payroll.
The issue rose to prominence in 2011 when Jane Pilgrim, an NHS worker who worked full-time for health union Unison criticised the Government’s health policies.
People on the public full-time for unions are known as “Pilgrims”.
The official term for letting public sector staff do union business during the working day is called “facility time”.
The transport network, which runs the London Underground, buses, light railway and overground trains through the capital, is partly funded by the taxpayer. In the 17/18 year it got £2.6 billion of public money from local and central government sources.
David Leam, director of infrastructure at business group London First, said strikes cause “misery for commuters and tourists”.
“The drip drip nature of strike action in the capital over the last few years has caused real turmoil for commuters and companies alike, and undoubtedly damages London’s global reputation for being open for business”, he said.
“The disruption causes misery for commuters and tourists simply trying to get around town, while businesses get hit with the double whammy of reduced till receipts and a drop in productivity because staff can’t make it to work”.
A spokesman for Mr Khan said: “The Mayor makes no apologies for ensuring hardworking staff across London’s transport network are properly represented by trade unions. Trade unions play a vital role in ensuring Londoners are treated fairly at work.
“Since Sadiq has become Mayor, there has been a 65 percent reduction in days lost to strike action. This is because we have listened to the concerns of workers and engaged in constructive dialogue with the trade unions.
“TfL is currently undertaking the biggest overhaul of the organisation in its history, which has helped reduce annual costs by around £500m.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “We allow representatives paid time off to carry out union duties and meeting these costs represents 0.5 per cent of our total wage bill.
“The reorganisation of TfL over the past two years, that has helped reduce annual costs by around £500m, has required appropriate union representation for our staff affected by the changes.
“The number of representatives for our 28,000 employees is in line with legislation, guidelines from ACAS and agreements with the trade unions.”