Red Funnel workers, members of Unite, are set to begin strikes tomorrow (July 27) over poverty pay. On the eve of their strike, Unite has highlighted that the workers are paid up to £4 per hour less than other ferry counterparts.
Customer services advisers and catering assistants on Wightlink, which runs services between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, earn £13.42 an hour. The hourly pay for the equivalent roles on Red Funnel is just £9.50, a difference of £3.92. Wightlink cleaners earn £10.99 per hour, while Red Funnel cleaners are on £9.50.
Regardless of their role, Red Funnel staff must undergo sea training and are responsible for passenger safety. Workers are often away from home for days at time and are only paid the hours they work onboard the ferry, with no overnight subsidies provided for food or other expenses.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Pay and out of pocket expenses are so bad at Red Funnel that staff are using food banks to survive. It’s horrendous, especially when workers doing the same jobs on the same stretch of water are earning nearly £4 an hour more.
“There is no justification for Red Funnel and its owners, who have billions in the bank, to pay such disgraceful wages. Unite will fight them every step of the away until there is a decent pay offer.”
Red Funnel is owned by the £11.5 billion West Midlands Pension Fund and the £3.5 billion Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.
The overnight accommodation provided by Red Funnel for workers is located within its Southampton headquarters. There are no cooking facilities except a microwave, the accommodation has long standing problems with ant infestations and sleep is often disturbed by office staff coming into work.
Pay and conditions are so bad at Red Funnel that the company has a major staff retention problem that causes services to be regularly cancelled. This month alone, services have been cancelled on 1, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 19 July.
Unite regional officer Ian Woodland added,“Red Funnel have the boats and they have routes on one of the most expensive stretches of water in the world. But their operations are crumbling because the company doesn’t invest in its ships and they don’t pay the rate for the job. It’s not normal work, there’s long shifts, time spent away from home and all staff are responsible for passenger safety in the event of an emergency. Wightlink recognises this, which is why their operations are not in such a shambles.”
Around 120 Red Funnel staff working on the Southampton-Cowes route, the majority of whom are on the minimum wage, will begin a 24-hour strike action tomorrow (27 July), with further strikes on 1, 3, 5 9, 11, 15, 17, 19, 23, 26 and 29 August.
The strikes will impact Cowes Week, which runs from 30 July to 6 August, as well as the summer holidays.
By Ryan Fletcher