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Hovis monument

Hovis monument. Photo: Sandister Tei / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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Friday 14 May was strike day Number One at Hovis’ South Belfast plant.

Both the BFAWU and Unite represent workers at the site. Unite announced a 91% strike ballot with swift, decisive action.

The food production workers are seeking a 10% pay rise from the bread-making giant. This will bring the bakers in line with the rest of Great Britain.

Unite’s Sean McKeever says:

“Hovis is a hugely successful company which reported pre-tax profits at the end of last year of £19.2 million. There is no excuse for treating their workers in Northern Ireland any differently to those in Great Britain. Their workforce in Northern Ireland have a legitimate expectation of being paid on an equal basis to workers in Great Britain.

“We are calling on them even at this late stage to see sense, avoid this unnecessary dispute and the disruption and inconvenience it will cause consumers in Northern Ireland.”

London Metroline bus drivers announce strike dates

Following the return of stunning votes for strike action at Metroline Travel and Metroline West in April (97.2% and 96.3% yes votes respectively), Unite issued the employer an ultimatum: “jettison” the ‘remote sign-on’ proposals by 10 May else face strike action. 

Remote sign-on means drivers do not report to depots but start work at alternative locations such as a bus stop. The implications of the proposals for drivers pay and conditions are serious. The impact on the safety of bus drivers and the general public are simply unacceptable. In essence, remote sign-on is a crude employers’ endeavour to reduce costs while boosting profits.

While London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announced a moratorium on remote sign-on (which is not to be lifted while “detailed research” is carried out on the matter), the employer insists this is merely a “pause” to its introduction. 

Bus drivers aren’t having it. And now they’re set to drive home the message with 48 hours strike action on Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 May followed by 72 hours strike action on Monday 7; Tuesday 8 and Wednesday 9 June.

Bus garages on strike:

Metroline Travel: Brentford, Edgware, Criclewood, Holloway, Kings Cross, Lampton, Harrow Weald, Perivale, Potters Bar, West Perivale and Willesden.

Metroline West: Alperton, Greenford, Uxbridge, Wallingford and Willesden.

Covid scientists commence month long strike after having patience tested

Unite Biomedical Scientists working for East Lancashire hospitals NHS trust have commenced a month-long strike after bosses reneged on a pay agreement. The scientists - frontline workers at the heart of Covid-19 testing - are owed up to £8,000 backpay dating as far back as 2010.

Following a huge 85% yes vote to strike on the 7 May, the scientists will only work week-day shifts and not the nights and weekends they are contracted to do. The strike is set to continue until 4 June. 

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said:

“The trust management has behaved with ‘bad faith’ in not honouring the agreement it made with our members at the end of 2019 to upgrade them as a means to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis that is affecting the profession”

Encirc offer not good enough

Bosses at Cheshire glass bottle maker, Encirc have will have to deal with ten strike days in May after Unite members rejected their offer on Wednesday. 170 workers will take action to obtain equal treatment with others at the company, with the dispute mainly revolving around changes to working hours and the subsequent lack of remuneration to compensate for the changes.

Workers have been on strike Thursday and Friday this week and two further sets of four days are scheduled from the 19th and 26th of May. Ten days of strike action in a single month will cause serious production shortages and some big brand food and beverage companies will suffer as a result. If Encirc wants to sort this dispute out, a better offer is urgently needed.

UCU educates prison bosses

600 UCU prison educator members held two days of strike action, walking out of 49 prisons and young offender institutions this week. UCU members delivered a 68% vote to strike following Covid health & safety concerns and reports of intimidation of H&S reps by Novus. Since the start of the pandemic there have been multiple Covid outbreaks and deaths in prisons and Novus have hindered reps to carry out their H&S duties. 

The strike is unprecedented among educators in prisons highlighted by Zarah Sultana MP’s Early Day Motion which notes:

“this House … is alarmed by reports of intimidation of health and safety representatives by Novus, covert recordings of private union meetings and fake social media accounts set up to discredit UCU”

You can email your MP here to urge them to pressure Novus to put health & safety first. Lobby your MP to sign EDM 18.

Brush Electrical service engineers announce fire and rehire strike

The result of Unite’s ballot at Loughborough’s Brush Electrical Machines is a summer of strikes. Engineers at the company, who service generators all over the world, have voted to strike from 25th May to 16th August.

30 engineers will take part as they seek to defend their terms and conditions in yet another example of fire and rehire. The company is trying to force through contracts which would see a pay cut of up to £15,000 per year and reductions to holidays and overtime allowances.

Parent company, Melrose already has an ongoing dispute with Unite members at GKN Automotive in Birmingham.

Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said:

“Throughout the pandemic, these engineers have continued to travel wherever Brush Electrical needed them to be, even though they had to spend weeks quarantining in solitary confinement to do so.

“Now their bosses, who have most likely been sat comfortably working from home during lockdown, are rewarding our members for their loyalty and service with fire and rehire pay cuts of up to £15,000.

“Threatening our members with the sack unless they sign contracts that will see them being paid well below the industry standard has only strengthened their resolve to win this dispute.”

Trouble on the tracks: greedy Balfour Beatty have a fight on their hands

Railway maintenance and technical support workers are being balloted by the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs' Association) over a pay dispute with strike action on the cards.

Construction behemoth Balfour Beatty have been profitable over the pandemic period and certainly have plenty of cash for managers’ bonuses. A derisory two percent increase offer has been met by workers with contempt.

A “yes to strike action” vote looks a certainty.

TSSA leader Manual Cortes summarises the situation well:

“No one wants a strike, but we won’t stand by and see our members kicked in the teeth after what has been the hardest year, while company executives trouser huge bonuses. As things stand Balfour Beatty’s pay offer is insulting and unacceptable. We are just not having it.

“The fat cats at Balfour Beatty still have time to put this right and we are willing to sit down and discuss – but only if they make it clear they are prepared to improve the terms being offered, in line with our members’ expectations.”

NHS pay - 4% just won't do

NHS Unison members in Scotland have voted to accept a 4% pay rise after their union recommended accepting the deal. Unison leaders claimed that the offer represented a fair deal for NHS workers. This despite the fact that union members had been pushing for a 15% pay rise to make up for years of pay freezes and Unison itself had been committed to a £2,000 per year pay hike. 

The 4% deal shows that the Tories derisory 1% offer can be thrown back in their faces. But both the GMB and RCN unions in the NHS recommended rejecting 4% as an insult. For low paid nurses the deal will mean as little as £13 or £14 extra a week.

It is vital the other health unions continue to push for a proper pay rise and that Unison members in the rest of the UK reject any similar deal. The pandemic has generated huge support for health workers across society. A real fight for decent pay in the NHS would have the backing of the overwhelming majority. Health workers need to push their unions to give a proper lead.

TUC takes stand for Palestine

The TUC and a number of trade unions have issued statements condemning Israeli brutality and defending the Palestinains right to protest. The TUC statement opposes the attacks on Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the bombing of Gaza with its rising civilian death toll and the brutal storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

It is very important that the whole movement stands with the Palestinians as the attacks against them mount. We urge all trade union members to pass resolutions supporting the Palestinians in their branches and to back and organise delegations to the protests taking place in Britain on Saturday and over the next few days.

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