Woolwich Ferry members' suspension 'must be rescinded now'

Transport for London bosses ‘declare war’ as seven workers suspended at crisis-hit Woolwich Ferry

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Transport for London (TfL) bosses were today (December 21) accused of ‘declaring war’ on the Woolwich Ferry’s workforce by Unite the union, as seven workers were suspended with no reason given.

Unite also said that there needs to be an urgent investigation into so-called ‘technical issues’ that mean the troubled ferry operation will be out of action until the New Year. The union has, therefore, called off planned strike action in the first fortnight of January, due to start on Monday, January 3.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, who has visited the ferry workers’ picket line, said. “The suspension of our seven members, including two of our reps, needs to be rescinded immediately. We won’t allow TfL management to get away with ‘declaring war’ on Unite and its members. The full weight of the union will be mobilised in support of them.

“We do not have details of the alleged charges yet, apart from a notification from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). We are asking for an immediate and full explanation as to why this has happened. It is a huge and unprovoked escalation from TfL,” she added.

“This is more hard evidence that the years of mismanagement, involving other operators, have continued with TfL. Unite is pledged to defend our members’ jobs pay and conditions. Our members at Woolwich Ferry under TfL have had to fight the unjustified victimisation of their union reps, deal with a total failure to produce a new pay award and end the use of agency staff.”

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab noted, “We are also demanding an investigation into the on-going technical difficulties with the ferry which means there will be no ferry service until sometime in the New Year. As a result, we will be suspending at least the first two weeks of our industrial action in January. The strikes, once they commence, are due to run until the end of March.

“TfL continues to spend excessive sums on agency staff, while claiming it is in financial trouble – this is money that could go towards paying our 58 members a decent wage as the RPI rate of inflation soars to 7.1 per cent.”

Besides the victimisation of two Unite reps, the dispute has also been about a 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 – these are issues which have arisen since TfL took back control from the discredited Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd in January 2021.

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.

 Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers’ living standards.

By Shaun Noble

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