Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Unite has announced a further nine 24 hour strikes in July following solid action taken by Woolwich Ferry workers in May and June.
To say industrial relations under discredited ferry operator Briggs Marine Ltd was bad is an understatement. But since TfL bosses took over in January this year they’ve simply delivered more of the same intransigence and victimisation. It’s no wonder that the action has been dubbed the “groundhog day” dispute.
Unite organiser Onay Kasab explained:
“The dispute centres on the victimisation of two accredited Unite reps. One of our reps has just received a written warning – this time for carrying out legitimate trade union duties when representing workers in a dispute about duties/job descriptions. As a result, we are announcing nine new 24 hour strikes in July”
But workers are also angry that a new pay and reward scheme has yet to be agreed while also highlighting the excessive use of agency staff and inadequate health and safety training for new employees.
While calling on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to intervene to resolve this dispute, Kasab said:
“Our members are as determined as they were when strike action started on 14 May. Now the chickens have come home to roost. - TfL tells us that it is all the fault of the previous contractors. We don’t care whose fault it is – our message is that our members will not pay for the mistakes of others.”
The next nine 24 hour strike dates are scheduled for 2, 5, 9, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26 and 30 July.
Scrap Serco at Royal London Hospital
Royal London Hospital’s outsourced catering workers are continuing their strike against outsourcer Serco this week as they seek to fend off changes to their shifts and bullying management practices.
The Unite members are demanding that ultimately Serco needs to be completely binned off, with their jobs brought back in house.
Counterfire’s Jamal Elaheeboucus has a more detailed report along with interviews here.
Bosses out to break DVLA strike
On 22 June 700 PCS workers at the DVLA commenced another set of 3 days strike action. This comes as government-run DVLA senior managers have contracted a private company APS to carry out work in order to break the strike.
This follows strikes in April, May and earlier this month over Covid 19 health and safety after the DVLA in Swansea has had the most Covid cases of any other workplace. PCS previously negotiated a deal with the DVLA which was scrapped by bosses at the last minute.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“This blatant attempt at strike breaking shows DVLA and DfT are not interested in settling this dispute. The cost of using a contractor to carry out work done by DVLA staff could be used to settle the dispute alongside putting the original deal back on the table."
Louise, PCS rep at the DVLA said of the solidarity they have received on the picket lines:
“People know they would not want their loved ones to experience Covid and then have a disciplinary for being off work too long. People know that the DVLA should be able to provide the technology for most of its staff to work from home. People know that staff who have worked tirelessly since March last year deserve respite.”
Ealing Civil Enforcement officers fight Serco
On Wednesday Unite workers employed by Serco, working in Ealing as civil enforcement officers commenced 72 hours of strike action. A further 2 weeks of strike action is planned from 30 June to 14 July.
Serco’s severance payments offers to elected Unite reps, activists and members is nothing but a cynical attempt to undermine the trade union collective organisation.
Workers saw straight through the transparent union-busting efforts sparking intermittent strike action amongst 40 civil enforcement officers. Serco is refusing to negotiate a new absence management policy for employees, Unite workers say the policy in place is being used to dismiss employees unfairly.
The Higher Education workplace is a war zone: University of Liverpool action heats up
The much-vaunted marking boycott tactic is currently being put to the test by UCU activists at the University of Liverpool.
The university bosses are seeking to cut twenty-four jobs in the Health and Life Sciences Faculty. These plans have hit the brick wall of a swift and decisive union response.
In turn, the bosses are cutting a 100% of the academics pay despite the bulk of the non-marking duties remaining in place.
University of Liverpool UCU’s Anthony O’Hanlon hits the nail on the head:
“This heavy-handed approach shows just how impactful our industrial action has been. The attempt to intimidate staff has only made staff and students more determined to fight for our colleagues against these despicable redundancies. Management should recognise that staff and students are united on this issue and withdraw these redundancies.”
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady added:
“Managers are trying to squeeze staff and force them into accepting the sacking of twenty-four colleagues, who the university is attempting to remove via Amazon style ‘rank and yank’ tactics.”
There’s going to be a reckoning in the universities and this is only the beginning.
Keep up to date with all your UCU solidarity here.
Fire and rehire must be defeated
Unite is still involved in two major battles against fire and rehire. Workers at Banbury’s Jacob Douwe Egberts and Brush Electrical in Loughborough have been taking strike action to defend their jobs, with those at Brush Electrical now ending the fifth week of continuous strike action..
Labour MP, Barry Gardiner will now be tabling a parliamentary bill to outlaw fire and rehire. Gardiner MP said:
"I have been really encouraged by the support I have received from MPs from every party and every corner of the country. This issue effects millions of working people across Britain and their families.
“Every union and good employer knows fire and rehire is wrong and together we can make Britain the best place to work. Carpenters, cleaners and comedians all back this Bill.
"I have been travelling the country to promote the Bill and I have heard terrible stories that are an embarrassment to British industry but together I know we can win."
Ending fire and rehire is a key demand of the People’s Assembly demo this Saturday. A big push from the streets will add to the pressure on the government to outlaw this deeply unpopular practice.
Pay hospitality workers a living wage
Unite is launching a campaign for hospitality workers to be paid a living wage and their key target is Whitbread’s Premier Inn hotels. A wave of protests have been held outside the hotel chain with Unite Hospitality members calling on the company to end the poverty pay culture affecting the company’s workers.
Unite says the company pays around 1/3rd of it’s staff minimum wage and is calling on them to adjust to the Real Living Wage Foundation rates of £10.85 in London and £9.50 in the rest of the UK.
Unite national officer for hospitality, Dave Turnbull, said:
“Unite has and will continue to criticise Whitbread for its shortcomings: During the height of the pandemic, however, it has to be said that the company led the way by topping up furlough, so staff received 100 per cent of their wages, and by rowing back on excessive plans to slash 6,000 jobs.
“On the day of Whitbread’s AGM, as its senior leadership and shareholders plot a course for recovery, our members are calling for an end to the poverty pay culture afflicting the company.
“Unless this happens, Premier Inn and Whitbread’s other businesses will soon find themselves struggling with endemic labour shortages.”
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