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Official Picket. Photo: Roger Blackwell / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Official Picket. Photo: Roger Blackwell / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Counterfire's fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back

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Recent weeks have seen several significant ballots to strike. As the effects of the economic impact of the coronavirus continue to build, a common theme continues of employers seeking to profit from the crisis, often in a cynical attempt to force years of management failures onto the backs of employees. 

Stanlow tanker drivers strike against job cuts

Tanker drivers employed by Hoyer Petrolog in Stanlow, Cheshire have voted 96.2% in favour of strike action. Drivers were balloted over action in response to the employer’s proposed redundancy of six drivers at the refinery.

Unite says the company is seeking to switch to agency drivers whilst making the redundancies and has announced 14 days of strikes throughout November. The Stanlow refinery supplies fuel to several major UK garages in the North and the strikes are expected to cause major disruption.

Strikes will be called off should the company renege on their threat of redundancies, according to Unite regional officer, Steve Gerrard:

“Despite Unite giving Hoyer every opportunity to resolve this dispute through negotiations, it has refused to do so and as a consequence and as a last resort Unite has announced strike dates.

Fuel tanker drivers are frontline workers and throughout this pandemic their work has ensured that other frontline workers can continue to go to work. They deserve to be treated better than this.

The ball is now firmly in Hoyer’s court. It can still avoid strike action occurring by withdrawing the threat of job cuts.”

Rolls Historic Rolls Royce plant ballot results in 94% yes vote to strike

The latest development at the Barnoldswick Rolls Royce plant comes as the result of the ballot is announced to be a resounding 94% vote in favour of industrial action.

Rolls Royce recently announced plans to offshore work from the plant, which manufactures jet engine blades, to Singapore. Unite has launched a high profile campaign to protect jobs at the historic site, citing the major impact job losses will have to the local economy as well as the need to protect the heritage of such a historic workplace.

The huge majority in the ballot reflects the level of anger workers feel after bending over backwards to save jobs and keep the site operational in recent years. The deadline for Rolls Royce to back down from their offshoring plans expired yesterday.

Fire and rehire plans at British Gas put on hold after threat of action. 

The controversial, and all too familiar ‘fire and rehire’ tactics that British Gas were seeking to use in driving down their staff pay and conditions have been put on hold says the GMB union. 

After threatening industrial action to fight the tactics, GMB has announced that British Gas has reconsidered their plans and they are now on hold. The union is urging the employer to scrap them altogether and insists that workers are being forced to pay for bad management decisions.

Justin Bowden, GMB national officer, said:

“It is welcome that Centrica management have woken up, smelled the gas and put a pause on their despicable plan.

Working with, not against, the workforce and focusing now on serious negotiations that talk about growth not just cuts, is how to address the crisis created by past Centrica leaderships.

This temporary retreat comes after sustained pressure, condemnation and public and political outcry over the proposal to sack the entire British Gas workforce.

The company should now do the decent thing and take this fire and rehire threat off the table for good.

Centrica’s problems were not caused by the loyal engineers, call centre workers and back office staff who have done everything asked of them over years of boardroom mismanagement but have found their jobs in the firing line.”

Construction workers prepare to fight national pay freeze

A key agreement which affects the wages and conditions of over 500,000 construction workers mainly in civil engineering is under threat as employers in the construction industry impose a pay freeze.

The Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) agreement sets minimum pay rates and a pay rise was due in June. The employers' side have been delaying announcing a rise for months but last week they admitted that they were trying to impose a pay freeze and refusing to make any improvements in conditions as well.

As a result, Unite the union which organises many construction workers, is warning that the prospect of industrial discontent on construction sites across the UK is increasing.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said:

"This is a missed opportunity to reward construction workers in civil engineering for their hard work and commitment, the vast majority of whom have continued to work throughout the pandemic in very trying circumstances. They appear to have no grasp of reality or understanding that the majority of workers affected are operating on large sites where they have made this agreement largely irrelevant.

Union organisers will be consulting with workers throughout the UK to identify the sites where workers wish to take local action to secure a decent pay increase."

Job-cutting Heathrow bosses refuse to give back bonuses

In the ongoing dispute at Heathrow, Heathrow Airport Limited have rejected Unite’s proposal that staff and shareholders return their bonuses in order to avert proposed industrial action.

Proposing that workers give back their bonuses was an unnecessary move, but it has shown up the extraordinary wealth and hypocrisy of the bosses. The proposal would have meant CEO, John Holland Kaye returning around £1.5 million as well as shareholders paying back the £100 million dividend they received this year.

A report by Unite found that Heathrow Airport Limited has paid out over £4 billion in dividends since 2012, despite having more than £15 billion of debt attached to the company.

Unite maintains that Heathrow Airport Group is motivated by ‘greed, not need’ and says the directors’ lack of willing to repay their bonus shows they are using the pandemic as an excuse to pass on losses to their members.

Balloting for industrial action closes on November 5th.

International News

There have been several high profile disputes in Europe recently that deserve attention, including a big victory in Norway for workers in the energy sector.

Health workers in France protest against coronavirus exhaustion

In France, health workers took to the streets in a number of cities recently to protest against the conditions they are facing. The largest demonstrations took place in Paris but Annecy, Besançon, Saint-Étienne and Rennes also saw workers out protesting.

Amidst a second wave of the coronavirus, workers are demanding better pay and conditions as well as calling for more recruitment to ease the burden. The CGT Santé et Action Sociale union complained that the country’s health infrastructure is at breaking point and health workers are exhausted.

Victory for oil and gas workers as production halted in Norway

As negotiations stalled at the end of September, onshore gas workers and members of the Lederne union in Norway decided to strike for better pay and conditions. A ten-day production stoppage forced two energy companies to cede ground and award the workers a pay rise.

A total of 169 workers went on strike at four sites operated by Neptune Energy and state-owned Equinor. With additional sites set to go on strike on October 10th, a settlement was agreed one day before and workers returned. The countries oil and gas was cut by up to 25% during the strike period, forcing an increase in the price of oil. Norwegian labour regulations meant that striking workers could not be replaced with others from elsewhere.

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