London mayor Sadiq Khan has been urged to intervene as new strike dates were announced in the Woolwich Ferry ‘different bosses, same victimisation’ dispute.
The nine days of 24 hour strikes during July were unveiled as the new Transport for London (TfL) management issued a written warning to a second union rep which, Unite says, is a further case of victimisation of a shop steward carrying out their legitimate trade union duties.
Unite the union called on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to intervene to resolve this dispute which will cause increasing travel disruption to commuters as the return to the office gathers pace.
Unite’s 57 members have been taking strike action since mid-May with more already announced strike days on 18, 21, 22, and 25 June. The nine new 24 hour strikes are scheduled for 2,5,9,12,16,19,23,26 and 30 July.
The ferry has been dogged by poor employment relations in recent years which led to TfL taking over its operation from the discredited Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd in January this year. As a result, the latest bout of industrial unrest has been dubbed the ‘Groundhog Day’ dispute.
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.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said, “Now is the time for London mayor Sadiq Khan to use his influence to ‘bang heads together’ at TfL to get the top executives to resolve this dispute which will cause increasing disruption to commuter traffic as numbers returning to the office rise with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
“The dispute centres on the victimisation of two accredited Unite reps. One of our reps has just received a written warning – this time for carrying out legitimate trade union duties when representing workers in a dispute about duties/job descriptions. As a result, we are announcing nine new 24 hour strikes in July,” he added.
“On pay, we are proposing incorporating as many of the contentious payments and enhancements as possible into basic pay. It is a scandal that basic pay is so low, meaning that workers have to work huge amounts of overtime to earn a decent wage. This, in turn, has huge fatigue and safety implications.
“The current TfL management didn’t know what Briggs Marine was paying the employees,” Kasab continued. “All the relevant information, which should have been handed all over in January, wasn’t. This has now come to light and is one of the reasons why there is this dispute. It’s another example of the chaos caused when services for the public good are privatised.
“Our members are as determined as they were when strike action started on 14 May,” he went on to say. “Now the chickens have come home to roost. – TfL tells us that it is all the fault of the previous contractors. We don’t care whose fault it is – our message is that our members will not pay for the mistakes of others.”
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 2.6 million passengers also used the ferry annually.
There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.
By Shaun Noble