Stagecoach bus in Irvine. Photo: David Dixon/cropped from original/licensed under CC2.0, linked at bottom of article Stagecoach bus in Irvine. Photo: David Dixon/cropped from original/licensed under CC2.0, linked at bottom of article

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

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Stagecoach workers in Scotland have voted for strike action over pay during the COP26 summit. The Unite members, employed by Stagecoach East in Fife, have backed action in Perth (91% on a 78% turnout), Fife (93.4% on a 74.4% turnout) and Strathtay (93.2% on a 67% turnout).

The whole range of Stagecoach workers are involved, including drivers, engineering staff, administrative workers, and cleaners. Any industrial action, it is anticipated, would involve disruption to the COP26 climate-change conference being held in Glasgow between 31st October and 21st November.

A new offer has been tabled by management who are under serious pressure. However, union representatives are saying it doesn’t meet the union’s ‘fair’ pay claim of the Retail Price Index inflation figure (3.8% in July) plus 1%, as demanded by Unite.

The strikers’ resolve remains strong, and it has been bolstered by the fact that Stagecoach’s latest accounts reveal the group made a profit of £58.4m, with over £875m of available liquidity.

Meanwhile, Unite is holding a number of ballots which cover major bus depots across Scotland, including Angus, Ardrossan Ayr, Brodick, Cumbernauld, Dumfries, Dundee, Fife, Inverness, Highlands and Islands, Kilmarnock, and Perth. In total, around 1,500 workers are covered.

UCU ballot: turning the Liverpool spark into a national flame

Starting on Monday, 18th October, the University and College Union (UCU) will be balloting its members in disputes over USS pensions and the ‘4 Fights’ dispute over pay, unsafe workloads, casualisation, and gender and BAME pay gaps.

A typical member will be £240,000 worse off if the pension changes take effect. The ballots run until Thursday 4th November and affect a total of 152 institutions.

It is vital that staff mobilise for action. Tory anti-union laws require that more than 50% need to vote in order to mandate action. We need to beat that turnout to show the employers and government that we mean business. And there’s no guessing the catalytic impact of national strikes in the current period.

Heinz drivers “full of beans” over pay victory

Twenty-six Unite truck drivers in Wigan, working for Heinz, but outsourced to distribution company Wincanton, have won a pay rise and formal recognition, resulting in an end to a two-tier system.

Drivers employed on general haulage contracts are celebrating a 25-34% pay increase (depending on shifts). The deal has eliminated the difference between the ‘core’ and ‘second generation’ (general haulage) contracts, while maintaining the sick-pay scheme which management had tried to undermine. They have also secured an additional five days of holiday and full sick pay for six months, with 50% for the following six months.

In Ellesmere Port, they won parity with the core drivers with a 19% pay increase; while at Argos’s Heywood site, drivers on Wincanton’s general haulage contract celebrated a 31.4% pay rise.

Kenny Rowe from Unite said:

“Two-tier contracts are a disease in logistics, and the driver shortage is giving us the confidence to drive them out.” 

Scrooge lives on in Denbighshire

Plastics manufacturer, Goodfish, have raised the stakes in a dispute with workers at the company’s St Asaph site in Wales, by cancelling the staff’s bonus for the quarter up to September 2021.

In the run-up to a possible strike over pay, the company have also warned workers that there will be no bonus leading up to Christmas. Staff are demanding a pay rise after accepting last year’s pay freeze, due to the economic uncertainty thrown up by the Covid pandemic.

The workers’ union, the GMB, have called Goodfish’s actions ‘Dickensian’, and have urged the company to get back round the table before the company’s actions ‘do lasting damage’ to the workforce.

Brighton Bin strike extended

GMB Brighton and Hove bin workers who recently commenced two weeks of strike action, which will come to an end on 19th October, have announced that from 21st October they will walk off the job for a further five weeks.

The workers say they have no confidence in the council’s negotiating team and have called for the resignation of the chief executive. GMB reps say they left talks after the council reneged on an offer promised in talks the previous week.

Branch Secretary Mark Turner said:

“We went into a meeting where we were expecting to further develop what we had talked about on Friday, and button it all up today. In fact, we’ve had quite the opposite: it’s got worse.”

The dispute is over change of duties and the removal of drivers from longstanding rounds, resulting in loss of pay.

Unfare pay for Inchbus drivers

The fifty Unite drivers at Leicestershire’s Kinchbus company finish balloting today (Friday, 15th October) for a decent pay rise. The company ‘offered’ (read, ‘imposed’) a 2% increase, that they implemented on 1st October, which still means drivers earning less than £11 an hour!

The drivers are insisting on an ‘inflation-plus’ rise. The owners plead poverty, citing passenger levels still being 20% below pre-Covid levels. They fail to mention that since they bought Trent Buses, they’ve acquired Barton Transport (merging the two as TrentBarton), Kinchbus, TM Travel, and the bus operations of Felix Buses.

They also have a 6% holding in First Leicester. So there’s money for some in public transport!

Scotland’s Rural University College strikes for the first time: HE anger is spreading

Members of the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) lecturers’ union maintained its concerted action against pay differentials with its third day of strike action this week.

Staff at Scotland’s Rural University College are being paid up to £7,000 less than sector equivalents. EIS’s Larry Flanagan says:

“Pay for lecturers at SRUC has fallen significantly behind the norms across both the further and higher education sectors and it is time for management to stop procrastinating, and pay their lecturers fairly for the work they do. As we enter our third week of industrial action, it is clear that our members remain strong and committed.”

More strikes days are planned. Let’s hope they learn the lessons of Liverpool: keep militant, stay united.

DVLA ballot in Covid battle

PCS DVLA workers are currently being balloted for further strike action: the ballot opened on 12th October and closes on 10th November.

These workers were on strike over the summer over health and safety, after they had the highest number of Covid cases of any workplace. PCS says that since the summer, Covid cases at the DVLA have started to rise significantly. Despite this, management have put in no safety measures to keep cases down, and have announced plans to bring 150 staff, who have been working from home, back to the workplace.

They introduced 450 workers back on site in June and have recruited 120 new workers during the summer. These workers have also been facing accusations from the press and government that their strikes are to blame for lorry-driver shortages when that is due to low pay and poor working conditions.

Metrolink workers secure a deal

Unite drivers for Manchester Metrolink have called off their planned strikes after agreeing a two-year pay deal with the employer, Keolis Amey.

Industrial action was originally called in response to a pitiful pay offer of 1%, although that was postponed to enter further negotiations. After those talks broke down, further strikes were planned around big sporting events, but Keolis Amey came back with a better offer.

Unite says that the drivers will accept a below-inflation 3% deal this year with a guarantee of the higher rate of between 3% or RPI next year. It’s hard to call this a big victory with inflation running close to 5%.

FBU pensions win

Retired firefighters, scuppered by the introduction of a less preferential scheme in 2015, can sleep sounder tonight.

In December 2018, a Court of Appeal ruled that the firefighters are entitled to be returned to a previous scheme. The implementation of this is taking effect now. The results should be a significant improvement to the retirees’ livelihoods.

FBU’s Mark Rowe said:

“The FBU has been clear throughout that significant delays in members receiving the pensions they deserve is unacceptable. We are pleased to have reached this conclusion. The union will always fight for the best possible outcomes for its members.”

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