Striking Liverpool dockers march Striking Liverpool dockers march. Photo: Tayo Aluko

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

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The 600 striking dockers at the Port of Liverpool have voted at a mass meeting on a deal to end their long-running dispute with Peel Ports. News from the Frontline understands that the deal is around 9.5% on base pay, but works out in practice to between 13.5 % and 18.5%, depending on the skill set. There is also an increase on the overtime rate, plus a further increase for any 6th-shift working.

Possibly the most significant element though, is the withdrawal of the HR2 redundancy notices which threatened 132 dockers with the scrapheap. The company has committed to finding alternatives to redundancy.

At a time when dockers’ reps at the Port of Felixstowe are engaged in ‘intensive talks’ with their employer, news such as this can only boost their morale.

Counterfire will explore the outcome of the strikes, and the significance of the settlements in a longer article, when reps from the two ports are free to discuss events more openly.

From the DVLA to the UK Space Agency, PCS members vote to strike!

PCS members across various government departments and agencies have voted for strike action over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancies terms. Of the 214 different departments and services balloted, 126 beat the 50% threshold with an average 86.2% yes vote for industrial action.

The union are calling for a 10% pay rise, pensions justice, job security and no cuts to redundancy terms. The General Secretary of the union, Mark Serwotka, has written to the Cabinet Office demanding meaningful negotiations begin as soon as possible. But the Cabinet Office may find the traditional route of holding negotiation via Acas a bit tricky, PCS members at Acas are included in this dispute and voted overwhelmingly for strike action!

Mark Serwotka said:

“The government must look at the huge vote for strike action across swathes of the civil service and realise it can no longer treat its workers with contempt.  Our members have spoken and if the government fails to listen to them, we’ll have no option than to launch a prolonged programme of industrial action reaching into every corner of public life”.

Dates for strike action could be announced next week, Friday 18 November, when the PCS NEC has its next meeting.

Dept of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: PCS announce 5-day strike

Outsourced caterers, security guards, reception workers, posties and porters employed by the new-fangled Westminster-based ministry are striking for 5 days from 16 November. 

The dispute is primarily pay based but includes some health and safety elements. 

ISS and Aramark are the all-too-familiar outsourcing culprits. 

PCS’s Mark Serwotka says:

“A recent survey showed a third of our members were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford to buy food, so it would be no surprise if these hard-working caterers would struggle to afford the food they serve to others. 

“We demand they receive an above-inflation pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.” 

Let’s get these workers paid properly. Better still, get them in-house.

Pay talks stall at Heathrow

700 workers at Heathrow, baggage and cargo handlers, and airside transport workers employed by Dnata and Menzies have voted to strike from 18 November in a dispute over pay. The reps say that the pay offers – which range from 2% to 6% – are effectively pay cuts, given inflation is over 12%.

A spokesperson for HAL (Heathrow Airport Ltd) said “Our priority is to ensure passengers are not disrupted by ground handler shortages” to which one of the Unite reps retorted:

“It’s ironic he had to add the words about ground handlers, because they’ve had no qualms about disrupting passengers’ holiday plans when it suits them.”

HAL imposed a daily passenger cap on the amount of tickets airlines could sell over the summer peak. Airlines that will be affected include Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates, all of which were looking forward to an autumn bonanza as the World Cup kicks off in Qatar.  

Coventry Amazon Workers Support Group launch

Amazon workers at the Coventry depot are to be re-balloted a month after falling short of a ‘legal’ mandate by just 3 votes. In an effort to reach more workers and build support and solidarity from the wider movement the GMB are setting up an Amazon Workers Support group.

If you are near the West Midlands the launch meeting of the Support Group will be held at 6pm on Wednesday 16 November at the Jaguar Social Club, Fenton Road, Coventry, CV5 9PS. If you are available to attend, could you please RSVP to [email protected]. And look out for the solidarity rally on Black Friday (25 November).

Photo: @GMBMidlands / Twitter

UCU FE: Fighting back against real-terms pay cuts

UCU members at privatised higher education provider University of Sheffield International College are to take 5 days of strike action between 17 and 30 November in a dispute over pay as well as working to rule from 21 November.

Employer Study Group, which has close links to the University of Sheffield, charges international students tuition fees of over £17,000 to help them prepare for university courses but has refused to offer staff a pay rise higher than 5%.

At Darlington College, UCU members are balloting for industrial action after the employer imposed a 1% pay award and a £250 one off payment despite college staff already being paid significantly less than those in similar roles in schools.

Chris Robinson, UCU regional support official said:

“Years of below inflation pay awards have left our members financially insecure, now the cost-of-living crisis is upon us they face being pushed into poverty.”

With 70% of UCU members considering leaving the sector if the situation doesn’t improve, employers must offer better than 1%.

Bin workers of Waverley ready to strike

Waverley, in country Surrey, has become the latest local authority where bin workers have taken action to get better pay. The GMB members have committed to a three-week strike that will last until 26 November.

The Lib Dem/Independent council has claimed that the situation is entirely down to their private subcontractor, Biffa, who in turn are falsely claiming to the press to have offered inflation rate pay.

Big strikes come in small packages

Almost 700 GMB workers at DS Smith have voted to go on strike and could be on the pickets before the month ends. The workers make packaging for Amazon, BrewDog, McVities and more. The workers secured a massive 93% yes vote to strike following a 3% ‘pay offer’ with a one-off payment of £760, the workers are at DS sites Lincolnshire, Louth, Featherstone in Yorkshire, Devizes in Wiltshire, Livingston in Scotland and Clay Cross in Derbyshire.

GMB National Secretary Eamon O’Hearn said,

“DS Smith can afford to do better – they need to table a serious offer that respects the contribution of our members, to nip this industrial action in the bud.”

Wild West time on the buses

Bus workers in Cornwall and Somerset are taking strike action this week against First Group over an attempt to lock them into low pay for two years.

The RMT has protested that the highly profitable private operator is failing to meaningfully negotiate. The workforce of 400 have taken several 24-hour actions already this month and do not show signs of backing down.

Photo: @RMTunion

Metro strike to hit Tyne and Wear

Over 50 Unite engineers employed by Stadler Rail Service Ltd, working on the Tyne and Wear Metro are to strike 14 to 28 November following a 4% pay offer. Workers began an overtime ban on 15 October and Unite says if the dispute is not resolved more strike dates will be announced. Stadler made profits of £119 million in 2021, they have offered workers a one-off payment of £1,000 but the union says they need to increase the rate of basic pay.

Al Jazeera: Bectu secures pay deal for members

Following the threat of strike action, Bectu and NUJ members at Qatari media outlet Al Jazeera have voted to accept an enhanced 4.5% pay deal over two years. 

Bectu’s Noel McClean says:

“After almost three years of no pay increase, we are thrilled to have secured this much improved offer for our members and to have achieved this result without our members losing a single penny through strike action. 

“It’s also encouraging to have a commitment from Al Jazeera to improve the negotiation process and we look forward to working with them to continue to deliver for our members.” 

“Throughout the dispute, our members were determined in their efforts to achieve a fair pay deal for both 2022 and 2023. Their continued engagement and united front has been critical to this success.” 

4.5% is still a pay cut. News from the Frontline isn’t sure “fair pay deal” quite covers it. There’s nothing like a picket line to make bosses see sense and they are always preferable to Acas.

Greedy bosses fuel refinery strike

Around 300 construction workers, members of the Unite and GMB unions, are due to strike from 21 November in a dispute over bonus pay. The workers, employed by contractors Altrad, Bilfinger and Enerveo, provide safety-critical maintenance at Fawley refinery.

The refinery is the biggest in the UK, provides one fifth of the fuel used on UK roads and employs in excess of 2,500 workers on site. The construction workers are asking for the £2.37 an hour bonus provided for under the NAECI (National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry) agreement, which governs their terms and conditions.

As their shop stewards put it:

“Inflation is ripping through at 12%, the energy industries are making record profits, but there’s no money for the workers. We’re not asking for the world, just enough to pay our bills.”

On the website

No more dutiful silence: nurses make history: The vote by nurses to strike shows a level of frustration with conditions inside the NHS and poverty pay, but also a determination to join other workers in opposing the government. Caitlin Southern, a health worker in the north of England, explains why this struggle deserves our solidarity

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