Workers, who operate the Woolwich Ferry used by an estimated 2.6m passengers a year, are to hold a ballot for strike action in a dispute over pay, health & safety, and lack of staffing.
The 31 workers who are employed by Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd, will be balloted for strike action from February 14. The ballot closes on March 6.
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 ferry 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.
“The ballot starts on Valentine’s Day but I can assure you that our members have little love for the management which appears not to have learnt the lessons from the dispute two years ago.
“A new service was launched a few days ago and the current dispute follows a restructuring which means fewer staff operating the ferry,” he added.
“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.
“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 and we would urge the company to do so urgently.”
About 20,000 vehicles a week use the free service across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London. An estimated 2.6 million passengers also use the ferry annually.
There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.