Woolwich Ferry staff to strike on Thursday in pay dispute

Woolwich Ferry workers will stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday 19 December after pay dispute talks broke down this week.

56 workers who operate the Woolwich Ferry, used by approximately 20,000 vehicles a week, voted unanimously for strike action, which will start at 00:01 on Thursday.

The workers are members of Unite, Britain and Ireland’s biggest union. Unite said that there has been a long history of poor managerial practice by Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) and employs the 56 workers.

An estimated 2.6 million passengers use the free ferry service annually, which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London. Historically, there has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.

Two years ago, there was an acrimonious and long-running dispute at the ferry with the same employer over a bullying culture and health and safety issues.

The latest dispute surrounds the failure to pay the London Living Wage (currently £10.75 an hour) on basic pay; the imposition of changes to overtime and shift working; failure to adhere to the agreed job evaluation scheme; and failure to deal with equality issues.

This summer, there were 10 days of strikes on similar issues without resolution. Unite then re-balloted its members and, as a result, they will now hold strike action as last ditch talks have failed to resolve the issues.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “Last ditch negotiations took place yesterday, but failed to make the necessary breakthrough. Unite entered talks in the hope that the employer would adopt a constructive approach.

“Instead the company made vague proposals for yet another restructuring – the last so-called ‘restructuring’ saw the workforce cut by a third. Also, the management gave no figures and refused to deal with the issue of racism.

“We are not turkeys and we are not voting for Christmas. The bosses asked us to agree to a reduction in the opportunities to work overtime - which makes up a large part of the earnings for many of our members.

“In return, our members were expected to accept a new pay structure with no figures attached. When we refused to countenance this insulting offer, the management walked out.

“It is an understatement to say the management at Briggs Marine Contractors has a very poor record when it comes to employment relations over a number of years.

“It is now time for the Greater London Authority (GLA) and TfL to say ‘enough is enough’. This vital service for the travelling public should be taken back ‘in house’.

“We regret the inconvenience that the strike will cause the ferry’s users, but our members feel they have been backed into a corner by a hardline management.”