Workers operating the Woolwich Ferry, now run by Transport for London (TfL), are holding a ballot for strike action over the victimisation of a Unite rep, the union announced today (Wednesday April 7).
Unite said the ballot of its 57 members will open on Wednesday April 14 and close on Thursday April 29.
The ferry has been dogged by poor employment relations in recent years which led TfL to take over its operation from the discredited Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd.
Besides the victimisation issue, the staff are angry at the failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme; the excessive use of agency staff; and the failure to provide adequate health and safety training to new employees.
“Unfortunately, we are experiencing a Groundhog Day scenario at the Woolwich Ferry,” commented Unite regional officer Onay Kasab.
“When the ferry was operated by Briggs Marine Contractors our members were on the receiving end of some appalling employment practices over a number of years and we welcomed the takeover by Transport for London (TfL).
“However, we are very disappointed that we are once again in the position of holding a ballot for strike action – we expected better of the TfL management.
“No union can stand by while its representative is victimised. It is a fundamental principle that our members understand – when workers come forward to stand as union representatives, bravely putting their heads above the parapet, they will have the full support of the union, using every means at our disposal, including industrial action.
“Clearly TfL thinks that it can mirror a Tory government which is passing draconian legislation in the hope of silencing criticism and dissent.
“However, we are keen to engage constructively with TfL management during the ballot process so we can resolve these outstanding issues and ensure that the Woolwich Ferry can be operated in a fashion that truly benefits the users and the workforce.”
Before the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020 about 20,000 vehicles a week were using the free service across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London. Pre-Covid-19, an estimated 2.6m passengers also used the ferry annually.
There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.
By Shaun Noble