Commuters using the Woolwich Ferry face a festive season of travel disruption as workers vote to strike after nearly ‘a year of misrule’ by Transport for London (TfL) bosses.
Unite the union said the troubled ferry operation has been plagued by poor employment relations for years, first with the previous operator Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd and now with TfL which has led to more than 30 days of strike action during 2021.
Unite represents the 58 ferry workers who have again voted for strike action with a 90 per cent majority – strike dates are expected to be announced very soon which will cause travel chaos over the Christmas and New Year periods.
Besides the victimisation of two Unite reps, there has also been 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 this year.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, who has visited the ferry workers’ picket line, said, “We expected better of Transport for London (TfL) when it took over the running of the ferry, but the years of mismanagement, involving other operators, have been continued with TfL. However, there is still an opportunity for them to retrieve the situation by entering into a constructive dialogue with Unite – though time is running out.
“Unite has pledged to defend our members’ jobs pay and conditions and that applies to our members at Woolwich Ferry who under TfL have had to fight victimisation of their union reps, deal with a total failure to produce a new pay award and oppose the increasing use of agency staff. It is no wonder yet again the vote for strike action against these attacks was overwhelming,” she added.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab noted, “Our members have shown magnificent solidarity during 2021 with more than 30 days of strike action. Again, they have returned a massive mandate for strike action which will cause travel chaos over the festive period. TfL bosses need to come to the table and negotiate a new chapter in employment relations for the benefit of the staff and also the travelling public.”
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