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Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles

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ADCU General Secretary James Farrar writes:

On September 28th, the App Drivers & Couriers Union will stage a 24-hour, midnight to midnight, national strike against Uber with simultaneous public demos at 1pm in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in favour of drivers which confirmed their worker status, Uber has failed to implement a key provision for working time. The courts held that drivers are workers from log-on to log-off but Uber is cherry-picking the ruling to only observe worker status from dispatch to drop. This means that Uber drivers remain unpaid for waiting time which makes up about 40% of total working time.  

Another point of dispute is Uber’s abandonment of a time and distance fare model in favour of fixed pricing. This places all the risk on drivers so if a journey is rerouted due to road works or takes longer than normal drivers will not be paid for that. Worse than that, the new pricing model breaks the link between the fare the passenger pays and the fare realised by the driver and the opacity between them enables Uber to take a bigger share of the take. 

The good news is that morale is high amongst drivers and they are more ready than ever before to take the fight to Uber management. Uber seems to think there are no problems that they cannot PR spin their way through. The drivers are ready to show them otherwise.

Find the nearest Uber demonstration to you here.

The fight is on: NHS workers reject 3% pay rise

GMB Southern Region NHS workers have rejected the government’s 3% pay insult by a massive 94% in a consultative ballot. GMB are demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS staff.

Helen O’Connor GMB Southern Organiser said:

“We recognise that even though there are unique challenges involved in organising NHS workers, the GMB indicative ballot result sends a strong message that growing numbers of our members are no longer prepared to put up being taken for granted by the NHS tops and government”

Read Helen O’Connor’s piece here.

RCN NHS workers also overwhelmingly rejected the government pay insult in a consultative ballot by 91.7% and 93.9% in England and Wales respectively. Overall 18,000 workers voted in both England and Wales. RCN say that this was the biggest turnout ever for them on a consultative ballot. The RCN is calling for a 12.5% pay rise for nursing staff. 

Chair of the RCN Trade Union Committee Graham Revie said:

“RCN members have made their voices heard and ministers in Westminster and Cardiff must think again about how they are treating nursing staff. Members deserve to be paid fairly – nursing has earned it and our patients deserve it” 

Meanwhile, 83% of Unison NHS members rejected the pay offer in their consultative ballot. Both Unison and RCN have suggested they may be planning to hold another consultative ballot. 

The results of the Unite and BMA consultative ballots were unknown at the time of writing. However, it is already abundantly clear that the mood on the ground among health workers is they are ready to take up the fight. All unions in health must now respond with industrial ballots coupled with energetic campaigns in every workplace across the country to secure the yes vote and turnout needed.

NHS Campaign group ‘NHS Workers Say NO’ is sharing a model motion for coordinated industrial action across unions.

Faslane nuclear submarine base fire crews start overtime ban over safety fears

Unite members working for Capita at Clyde’s naval bases have started a continuous overtime ban in a dispute over staffing level among rescue crew levels and a lack of consultation.

The present action was secured by a 100% vote on a 91% turnout. There’s 78% vote for strike action waiting on the wings, too.

Unite’s Debbie Hutchings says:

“Unite’s fire and rescue workers at Capita will start an overtime ban from Thursday (16 September) over our major safety concerns at the Coulport and Faslane naval bases. There is a lack of clarity, cohesion and coordination about what would exactly happen in several major incident scenarios. We simply haven’t received any credible answers to our questions.  

“It’s deeply worrying that in all the years the bases have been in operation, there hasn’t been a practical exercise for maximum credible incident scenarios with all the relevant agency involvement.”

This is an unsettling blend of corporate waywardness and privatisation. Organised workers are always right to act over safety issues – with nuclear weaponry involved it’s an absolute imperative.

Another Manchester bus strike looms

Unite members who work driving buses for Stagecoach in Manchester are balloting for strike action from 28th September to 12th October in a dispute over pay.

The drivers get £12.54 per hour and are angry that the company have not come up with a deal they deem satisfactory, especially given the fact that the company recently showed nearly £60m in profits. The drivers also want better sick pay in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

Stagecoach is the biggest operator in the area and covers a huge area of Greater Manchester meaning the potential for disruption is huge.

New Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“Bosses at Stagecoach should know that Unite is ready for a relentless campaign if our Manchester members vote for strike action.

 “Unite members all over the UK are voting for industrial action right now over Stagecoach’s ‘penny pinching’ on pay. Stagecoach’s board should be in no doubt that Unite is now wholly dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members.”

The Go North West drivers have already shown that striking pays off albeit from a defensive stance. Now would be a good time for workers driving for other operators in the area to push for more.

Royal Parks workers still prepared to strike

UVW and PCS Royal Parks attendants and cleaners have announced 30 days further strike action.

The outsourced workers employed by Just Ask were on strike for 16 days in August and had lively, well-supported protests in Hyde Park. The new strike dates are 1st-31st October. Workers are demanding an end to job cuts and a job security agreement, sick pay with parity with directly employed workers, contracts that reflect actual hours worked, and union recognition.

Workers have raised their target of over £9,000 for their strike fund.

Brighton bin strike: Drivers vote unanimously for industrial action 

GMB members employed by the Brighton and Hove Council as Cityclean, recycling, commercial waste and HGV drivers have voted unanimously to go on strike. 

As previously reported, the dispute began in response to pay and conditions, specifically the unfair dismissal of a number of drivers and change in workloads and shifts for remaining drivers. 

Gary Palmer, regional organiser for GMB, quoted one of the workers as saying ‘I doubt they will listen to us seriously until we stand out on the picket line at the gates to the Hollingdean depot, they never do’. 

The union has given the Council a two week grace period to return to negotiations and find an amicable solution. If a satisfactory result is not agreed by then, strike dates will be announced. A work stoppage will be a disaster for the council, especially in light of the national shortage of HGV drivers.

The art of resistance

Cleaners at the University of the Arts in London are set to go on strike next week. At the moment their terms and conditions are significantly worse than directly employed staff.

They are striking to be brought in house and to be put on the same terms and conditions as others employed by the university. The majority of the workers are women from BAME communities and their treatment is clearly discriminatory. 

To make matters worse, the staff have suffered further indignity with Amazon-style fingerprinting, missing pay and the dismissal of a staff member who was late back from a lunch break because she was feeling ill. 

The workers are holding a rally in central London at 11 am this Saturday 25 September (details TBA) and their strike runs from Monday the 27th September to 1st October. They are keen for support at the rally and on the picket lines. For more information go to their Facebook page. They also have a crowdfunder if you can give a much-needed donation.

Docked and loaded: workers won’t pay for high inflation

Dockers who work at Teesport in Redcar and Cleveland are set to ballot over strike action after rejecting a 1.35% pay offer.

88% of Unite members voted to reject the deal put to them and then a vote to move forward with industrial action secured 80% in favour.

The union is trying to persuade the employer, PD Ports to come back with a better offer, citing high inflation. Unite Regional Officer Pat McCourt said:

“Members have rejected the company’s latest offer. We’ve informed the company of the ballot result, management have come back and said ‘let’s get back round the table’, which is a sensible approach.

“When we first started it [inflaiton] was below 3%, now it’s 4.8%. In June, the Government said it was a temporary blip.

“Companies say their most valuable asset is their workforce and PD Ports is no different. If they are true to their word, that’s where they need to invest at the moment.”

With supply chain issues already causing headaches across the UK, can the bosses at Teesport afford not to give the workers a decent payrise?

Short of cash?

1400 GMB cash machine maintenance workers employed by G4S cash services are balloting to strike after bosses made a 0% ‘pay offer’.

GMB asked for a 7.5% pay increase and its members say that strike action could halt ‘cash in transit’ services resulting in empty cash points and travellers unable to access foreign currency.

Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer said:

“Their labour is in demand and most of them could get a better paid job tomorrow. Despite this – and a significant risk of being attacked while doing their job – many are loyal and want to stay, but only if they are paid what they are worth.

“We submitted a claim for 7.5%; we got an offer of 0%. It’s insulting and a massive kick in the teeth for our members.”

Sparks fly at Burghfield

200 construction workers walked off the AWE Burghfield site this week, in solidarity with victimised colleagues. A number of electricians had been told they were being taken off the project and transferred to another contract – at the request of AWE. Coincidentally, all the electricians affected are union members, including an elected safety rep.

The NG Bailey workers demanded their employer provide proof that it was AWE’s decision, and were informed that, actually, it was Costain (the main contractor) who had taken the decision.

Costain and Baileys were prime movers behind the attempt to cut wages in the ill-fated BESNA campaign 10 years ago, and both companies were also subscribers to the (now-defunct) union-busting Consulting Association, found guilty of illegal blacklisting.

The AWE workforce were crucial to the construction workers’ victory earlier this year, in their No2ESO campaign against de-skilling. (Thanks to the rank and file Siteworker blog for additional info on this.)

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