Counterfire's fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back
Unite members to ballot against fire and rehire at Heathrow Airport
The UK’s busiest airport is set to see 4,000 workers balloted in response to their employer, Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL), seeking to use section 188 legislation to fire and rehire them on inferior pay and conditions.
Unite says that the company is using covid as a cover to reduce the pay of workers by up to 24%. In a press release from the end of September, the union warned the employer that it would oppose the section 188 plans whilst pointing out the extravagant £2.6m remuneration package of the airport’s CEO.
HAL announced at the start of the pandemic a ‘robust financial position’ with liquidity of £3.2 billion that meant the business could survive for 12 months without a single flight taking off. This adds further weight to Unite’s claims that the management is using the pandemic to implement long-held ambitions of reducing worker terms and conditions.
Drug and alcohol rehab workers in Wigan take second phase of strike action
Having already taken action by walking out of their workplace for 16 days, rehab workers for Wigan’s We Are With You drug and alcohol support service went on strike for a further 10 days at the end of September. The dispute, say Unison members there, is over the outsourced service provider paying staff an average of £7,870 less over the next five years than they would have received had they not been transferred over from their NHS roles.
We Are With You operates as a charity which the local council has used to outsource their addiction-treating services. A Unison North West press release says the pay disparity will save the charity around £230,000 in wages over the course of their contract.
Protests at IKEA stores around the UK to support victimised shop steward
Trade unionists have been organising pickets outside IKEA stores in support of Glasgow shop steward and Usdaw Scottish Division EC member, Richie Venton. IKEA sacked Venton, an employee of 12 years for a breach of confidentiality after he allegedly informed workers there of the company’s decision to cut their sick pay.
Warrington and Edinburgh IKEA stores have seen local trades councils and trade unionists take action outside as part of a UK-wide network of solidarity.
A website, https://reinstaterichieventon.com has been created to assist in the campaign for Richie’s reinstatement and full average wages for all IKEA workers who have to self-isolate as a result of Covid.
Historic Rolls Royce factory in Lancashire under threat from offshoring
Ballots for strike action are being sent out to workers at the historic Barnoldswick Rolls Royce manufacturing plant. Rolls Royce is planning to offshore up to 350 jobs to Singapore, a move that Unite says breaks assurances they were given by the company in 2009.
Union members have bent over backwards to keep the site operational in recent years by taking measures such as short working time and voluntary redundancies. There is concern locally around the impact the site’s closure would have on the wider economy.
The ballot closes on October 16th.
Redundancy plans at the V&A opposed by PCS
The PCS Union is to fight plans by the Victoria and Albert Museum to make more than a hundred workers redundant.
The union argues that even with reduced numbers there is plenty of scope for redeploying all staff. It is also arguing rightly that rather than attacking staff the management should be using the government’s Job Support Scheme and demanding more funding from the government.
A representative of the union said. ‘It is a disgrace that the V&A has chosen not to use the government Job Support Scheme (JSS) when jobs across the museum, even with reduced visitor numbers, are sustainable.’
42 days of action forces concessions at the Tate
The PCS union representing striking workers at the Tate galleries has suspended action against redundancies. 42 days of strike action has forced management to make some concessions.
More staff are to be redeployed and sacked and workers will be given preferential treatment for vacancies in other departments and sites at the Tate. There are also promises of increased investment into redundancy funds.
The union correctly blamed the government for the current crisis across the arts sector:
‘We are clear that the cuts across the arts and culture sector are a result of the direct failure of government. The headline £1.57 billion investment is targeted to protect brands and buildings and not the workers.’
Not all staff members are happy at the suspension of strike action however. The promises from management remain vague and there is a feeling that the strike was damaging management and that more could have been achieved.
TfL calls for government support as Aslef drivers prepare to strike
At the time of writing, the crisis over TfL's funding remains in the balance. TfL have warned of a ‘doomsday scenario’ whereby London Transport will ‘grind to a halt’ without the required £2bn bailout requested to keep services running until the end of the year.
A further £3bn at least is needed to keep TfL afloat throughout 2021. The private train operating companies have all received an 18 month extension of emergency funds to keep services running from the public purse. Meanwhile, the London Transport Commissioner, Andy Byford explained that TfL finances were ‘right on the wire’.
The Tory government attached multiple strings to the first bailout in May including a full review of TfL's finances. The accountancy firm KPMG were employed to complete the review at the end of August. Andy Byford told the London Assembly Budget Committee that he was very keen to see the KPMG report but had only seen a third of it with two-thirds redacted. The unions and workforce too would like to have full sight of the KPMG report.
As the government and TfL engage in a game of brinkmanship, the unions and workforce are poised to respond to any attacks on our jobs, terms and conditions and pensions. The train drivers' union Aslef have already delivered a stunning 95.2% vote for strike action.
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