Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
RMT rail workers on the Serco operated Caledonian Sleeper service, which runs overnight routes between Scotland and London will begin strike action from the 15th of June as they battle against a pay freeze.
The ballot returned an 85% yes vote and will see eleven straight days of strike action followed by a ban on overtime and rest day working until further notice.
Pointing out the hypocrisy of Serco looking to make its workers take a pay cut, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:
“Following the overwhelming vote in the recent ballot of RMT members on the Serco Caledonian Sleeper, the union's executive has now confirmed dates for strike action from the 15th June.
“Our members reasonably expected a pay rise as a reward for the hard work that they carried out in the past year during the pandemic. I doubt very much that the Serco shareholders have been told that there will be no dividend for them.
“This contempt towards a loyal and dedicated workforce is completely unacceptable and RMT will be backing them all the way.”
DVLA strikes back on after broken promises
The ongoing dispute at the DVLA in Swansea has heated up again after the PCS said the employer reneged on agreements made that had been made to call off further strikes. As a result, PCS members have taken a further three days of strike action from the 2nd June.
The union reported that the DVLA delayed a meeting by several hours and when it was held, told the PCS that agreements negotiated with the union no longer applied. These included a one-off payment to staff that had worked through the pandemic and flexible return to work.
Workers at the site have suffered badly through covid with it being described as having one of the worst workplace outbreaks. Interference up to ministerial level has been hinted at as a reason for the DVLA reneging on its agreement with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka saying:
"We strongly suspect senior ministers at the Department for Transport have interfered with the progress we were making and want to make some kind of ideological stand against PCS.
"They have grossly underestimated the resolve of our members in DVLA and have only emboldened them to take targeted and sustained action in the months ahead until they win.
"PCS is fully prepared for months of strike action, and we urge the government to rethink its position."
UAL cleaners fighting outsourcing
GMB Cleaners working for University Arts London across their six university and their campuses have delivered a huge 86% yes vote to strike on an 84% Turnout. The cleaners are fighting against outsourcing contracts to private companies and demanding to be bought in-house, on the same terms & conditions as UAL workers with an end to outsourcing.
Compared to directly employed UAL staff these cleaners have inferior pay, irregular and fewer hours, no sick leave, poor holiday and maternity entitlements and unsafe working conditions. GMB South London Universities, UAL: End Outsourcing, Unison Arts & Music, UCU UAL and Arts SU have made a joint ‘Case Against Outsourcing of Cleaning Contracts at University of the Arts London’ Which can be viewed here.
The Case says outsourcing is unethical, racist and discriminatory as the workers are majority BAME and migrants, middle aged and over and women
You can donate to the strike fund here.
Bosses take the Biscuit!
GMB McVitie’s workers at the Pladis factory in Tollcross, Glasgow are facing a loss of 479 jobs. The factory had been in Tollcross for over a century and the owners are planning to close it down and move production to further South. In recent weeks workers and their families, backed by GMB held protests in Tollcross Park.
The ‘Save Our Jobs Tollcross’ campaign has launched a petition you can sign here. The workers are also calling on Nicola Sturgeon to step in and do something.
Local Resident Lisa Brackenridge said:
“It's more than just people’s jobs at risk, it’s some family’s lifeline and it’s also peoples mental health at risk, trying to find a new job under normal circumstances is hard enough, never mind during a pandemic where many workers have been laid off and businesses have been struggling.”
"Bitter and protracted" strikes inevitable as TfL funding crisis deepens
Negotiations between the Department for Transport and the Mayor of London/Transport for London (TfL) have yet again failed to deliver a long-term funding settlement for public transport in London.
This third short-term, "conditions-led" agreement runs until December 11 2021 whereby in exchange for £1.08bn TfL has to find £900 million in cuts or "new income" and increase revenue by between £500 million and £1bn each year or make extra cuts from April 2023. This is over and above the already planned cuts of £730 million by April 2023.
Moreover, the Government insists "TfL will carry out a review of their pension scheme"; Service levels across the network wil be reviewed; "freeze pay in line with the public sector pay pause". (The current 4 year deal on London Underground will be honoured, but pay for TfL employees will be frozen) and outline business cases for "driverless trains" operation on the Waterloo and City line and the Piccadilly line.
As transport bosses prepare their proposed budget in July to determine how and where to make these savings over the next few weeks, transport unions have issued explicit warning of "bitter and protracted" industrial action should these "savings" amount to any attack on staff wages, pensions, working conditions, safety and job security.
A fuller report of the TfL Funding crisis will be issued shortly on the Counterfire website.
To follow the science you need to pay the scientists
After taking selective strike action since early May, biomedical scientists employed by East Lancashire NHS Trust have begun a three-week strike. They work at Burnley General Teaching Hospital and the Royal Blackburn.
They are striking because their trust has failed to honour an agreement made in 2019 to upgrade the scientists from band 5 to band 6 on the NHS pay scale.
This means that the affected workers are owed back pay between several hundred pounds to £8,000.
The workers are taking unprecedented action because of the blatant breach of trust by the management at a time when NHS staff have been working to breaking point during the pandemic. Unite has warned the strike action will increase pressure on whether the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will be able to remain fully open.
The action by management appears particularly vindictive as the Unite members on strike say it would be actually be cheaper for management to pay the extra money than to employ cover staff during the strike. The strike is due to continue until June 21.
Breaking the supply chain
Supermarket supply workers in Scotland are set to strike after claims that bosses are plotting to derecognise them. GMB members are balloting for potential action at the XPO Logistics depot in Bellshill, which services 54 Scottish Morrisons supermarkets.
The workers are protesting plans to axe 47 team managers from a key bargaining group. They fear the moves could be a precursor to a “fire and rehire” operation across the plant.
XPO defined the workers at the plant as key workers, demanding full capacity and production throughout this pandemic, keeping Morrisons’ superstores stocked and communities fed and watered. Now they are being treated with contempt. Union members say the company has drawn an estimated £100 million from the furlough fund and have paid their chief executive a £57 million ‘incentive payment’.
North Essex teachers’ strike
Staff at Tendring Technology College in North Essex are striking against what parents have described as bully boy tactics by the Academies Enterprise Trust that runs the college.
Parents claim that the staff have been driven to take action in defence of the health and safety of the students in their charge. Despite serious concerns over the physical structure of the buildings, raised over the past two years, the Trust’s only response has been to make redundant (sack) essential staff. The students have started their own petition in support of their teachers, and now the parents have got stuck in as well.
Staff have been told that any public comment – including ‘liking’ comments on the students’ or parents’ facebook pages – will be treated as gross misconduct.
The strikes have the support of the NEU and the NASUWT unions, as well as the firm support of students, parents, and the wider community. The college is the only one available in the area, and the general consensus is that the Trust regards it solely as an asset to be sweated to fill their coffers.
More info can be found at the ‘Friends of TTC’ facebook page, where you can also find the petitions in support. The staff will be on the picket lines again next week (following the half-term return).
CWU fights call centre closure
CWU members at a Tesco Mobile call centre run by Capita in Radcliffe, Bury are battling against potential job losses that will result from Capita closing down the site and relocating 35 miles away to Preston Brook in Cheshire.
The call centre employs 500 workers who are mostly based in the local area and would face a 70 mile round-trip to work at the new site. Capita has offered the potential to work from home but only for the ‘top 25% of performers’ leading to accusations it is using the relocation as an excuse to ditch workers who haven’t met targets. Relocating workers would also face contract changes which could mean downgrading pay and conditions.
There was a lively protest at the site last week which was supported by local Labour councillors and trade unionists. One anonymous worker said:
“There’s no transparency and it’s not clear what they want to do.
“Last year, we were regarded as key workers and grafted through the pandemic to now be told this year that we don’t matter.
“It’s a real kick in the teeth and we feel like we’ve been pushed to the side in favour of profits.”
Court ruling against disciplining striking workers
This week, a judgement at the employment appeal tribunal ruled disciplinary action against workers who go on strike unlawful. Prior to this judgment British law did not allow workers involved in strike action or disputes to be sacked but they could be disciplined.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal case was taken by Fiona Mercer, a care worker against the Alternative Futures Group. Following a dispute against Alternative Futures Group plans to cut pay for care workers sleep-in shifts, she was suspended from her workplace. Fiona Mercer and Unison have been fighting this battle since March 2020 and have now won an appeal.
This is an important victory for the trade union movement when there is an uptick in workers struggles since the pandemic and while workers are fighting fire and rehire and massive cuts to pay and terms and conditions.
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