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‘Groundhog Day’ safety row

Woolwich Ferry staff to strike for 10 days over safety and pay
Shaun Noble, Monday, April 29th, 2019

Workers, who operate the Woolwich Ferry used by an estimated 2.6m passengers a year, are to strike for 10 days in a dispute over pay, health & safety, and lack of staffing.


The 31 workers, members of Unite, who are employed by Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd, voted unanimously for strike action


The 24 hour strike dates are May 17, 20, 24, 28, and 31. This will be followed by five days in June on June 3, 7, 10, 14 and 17. All stoppages will start at 12.01am.


The key issues in the dispute are the refusal to grant a six per cent pay increase for the year starting January 2019; the imposition of new duties; failure to deal with safety concerns; and lack of an adequate number of staff to operate the service.


Two years ago, there was an acrimonious and long-running dispute at the Woolwich Ferry (pictured) with the same employer, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), over a bullying culture and health & safety issues.


“The travelling public, who use the ferry, may well think Groundhog Day has arrived with yet another dispute with the management at Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd,” said Unite regional officer Onay Kasab.


“A new service was launched earlier this year and the current dispute follows a restructuring which means fewer staff operating the ferry.


“It also results in significantly less pay for our members as more staff are on a shift system,  so overtime is no longer payable, hence the six per cent claim for a hike in basic pay,” Kasab explained.


“We also have serious safety concerns. Since the new boats arrived in January 2019 the emergency diesel fire pumps have not worked on both vessels.


“The ferries do have backup electric fire pumps. However, if there was a blackout or the service were to lose electrical power, which can happen, then there would be potential dangers to passengers and staff, as there would be no working fire extinguishers.


“I think the public have every reason to be concerned at fewer staff operating the ferry as this raises, in our view, serious health & safety issues.


“There is still time for the management to enter into a constructive dialogue with Unite before the strikes start on 17 May and we would urge the company to do so urgently.”


About 20,000 vehicles a week use the Woolwich Ferry across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London. An estimated 2.6m passengers also use the ferry annually.


There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.


  • Photo by Mark Thomas

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