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Great Bear truck. Photo: Richard Says / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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The 65 drivers represented by Unite at Geat Bear Distribution on the Unilever contract have accepted a pay offer of 12.3%. The company’s original offer was 2%.

The drivers’ mood was not improved when the company’s loudly-trumpeted promise of a ‘Covid’ award for working throughout the pandemic turned out to be – a £25 shopping voucher.

In addition to the 12.3% hike across all elements of pay, overtime rates will now increase from time and a third to time and a half, and any extra shifts worked will be paid at double time.

Steve Gerrard, who negotiated the deal for the drivers, believes that the confidence of the drivers has been building over the last 12 months, since they successfully defended a rep under attack from the company:

“The company now knows that the drivers are prepared to stand together, and the mere mention of an industrial action ballot was enough to concentrate their minds. We need to spread this message, that solidarity works, across the company nationally. We are already seeing ‘lag-behinds’ joining the union, as they see the positive value of collective organisation.”

Teaching the governors a lesson

Teachers at Tring Park school in Hertfordshire have won their dispute after just two days of a planned five days of strike action. Under pressure from the NEU strike, the school’s governing body has scrapped plans to leave the Teacher’s Pension Scheme (TPS).

Union reps feared this was a prelude to the imposition of new contracts.

The schools governors said, “The decision has been made to withdraw the proposal and all eligible staff will be able to remain in the TPS if they wish to do so. The threat of fire and rehire is no longer applicable.’

This is an important victory in the battle against fire and rehire practices creeping into schools.

Serco submits: victory for Royal London Hospital catering workers

Catering staff employed by Serco at the Royal London Hospital have won an important victory by taking concerted strike action. The 25 staff in Unite took a week of strike action and had threatened more when Serco caved in to their demands at the end of last week. They were striking against unnegotiated changes to their rotas and a bullying management. Serco have agreed to change the rosters and remove the manager accused of bullying.

As Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: 

“This is a tremendous victory for our members who have stood together and faced down Serco, a multinational company.”

The workers campaign was high profile, highly participatory and dynamic with big pickets and marches around the hospital.

On Wednesday this week local activists organised a sit-in at the hospital as the first step in a campaign to bring all support services in the Barts hospital group back in house.

Watch this space!

Yorkshire GMB strike ballot: hospital workers’ TUPE transfer goes awry

Ancillary workers (porters, cleaners and caterers) at the Airedale Hospital in Keighley have voted for a strike action in a TUPE-based pay dispute.

TUPE means Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment). It’s an employment regulation that aims to protect workers as they find themselves shunted between vying contractors at the point of outsource.  

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It hasn’t worked for these NHS workers.

Local GMB organiser Joe Wheatley says:

“The trust outsourced their responsibility to AGHS and in turn AGHS created a two-tier workforce that made it permissible to pay people different wages for the same work. We are simply demanding that this be corrected, that the trust and AGHS recognise their responsibility to these NHS heroes and end unfair wage practices.”

The strike action is due to begin on 19 July.

Once again we see neoliberal bosses foisting an injustice onto workers they would never countenance for themselves. Let’s make sure they don’t get away with it.

GKN strike to save jobs and pay

Nearly 200 workers (members of the GMB and Unite unions) took strike action at GKN’s Telford site on Monday. They are resisting the company’s attempt to introduce a two-tier wage structure, and the perceived threat of redundancies by the company. The workers are clear that a one-day strike is only a token, but intended it as a demonstration to management of the strength of feeling over the issues. They are clear that further action will be called if management don't return to the table.

It should serve as a clear example to the unions involved at GKN’s Erdington site, currently facing the threat of complete closure next year. The Erdington site held a lobby of Parliament on Monday, and a ‘solidarity rally’ on Wednesday as a protest.

Unite is currently running a consultative ballot, with the possibility of industrial action ‘before the end of the summer’ if the company doesn’t change its position and offer guarantees of job security to its 519 employees.

Relying on MPs and ‘protests’ will not get GKN’s owners to change their mind. The possibility of disruption to their profit chain could. But that needs the unions to stop seeing the individual sites as isolated units, and bring the reps from across the business together. And that means not just GKN, but all of Melrose’s companies.

Melrose makes its money buying up ‘underperforming’ companies and ‘turning them round’ i.e. slashing costs (read ‘wages’ and terms and conditions) then selling them on. The unions cannot afford to continue to adopt a piecemeal approach of responding on a site-by-site basis.

UoL hit with academic boycott

As covered by Counterfire in detail last week, UCU members at the University of Liverpool (UoL) are in the middle of a huge battle to save jobs in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences with a marking boycott underway that has followed strike action. Rather than engage constructively, UoL decided to dock 100% of pay.

The marking boycott has led to some students not receiving their grades on time and as a result, the university has unsuccessfully tried to pit staff against students. UoL didn’t help their case this week after trying to downplay the effect of the boycott on social media, saying in effect that less than 5% of students were affected.

The backlash was immediate and students piled in on the side of their lecturers, urging UoL to resolve the dispute and cancel their planned redundancies.

UCU is now stepping up the pressure by launching an academic boycott of UoL, calling on members, other trade unions, labour movement organisations and the international academic community to support its members at Liverpool.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

“Staff and students are united in opposing the University of Liverpool's disgraceful cuts. UCU will not stand by whilst management threaten the academic integrity of the institution and withhold pay from staff fighting to defend their colleagues' jobs and students' education. It is very simple for university managers to end this dispute, they need to meet with us and work with us to save jobs and protect academic standards.

“We are calling on academics throughout the world to join us in boycotting the university until management come to the negotiating table.”

Serco sacks shielders in Sandwell

The GMB is balloting its members working for Sandwell Council’s waste collection services which are outsourced to Serco. According to the union, there is a culture of bullying and intimidation towards staff who raise safety issues.

GMB says that staff who needed to shield have been sacked by the outsourcing giant and 98% of members voted to proceed to a ballot in solidarity with their colleagues. There is some history here as a strike earlier this year under similar circumstances was called off after dismissed workers were given their jobs back.

GMB regional organiser Justine Jones said:

“Serco bosses have behaved appallingly. Sacking disabled workers for trying to keep them and their families safe, while bullying those who raise safety concerns is no way to run a business,

“GMB members have had enough and are flexing their industrial muscle. They now face crippling industrial action and inconveniencing the people of Sandwell if they do not address these concerns.”

Serco is already having to deal with refuse workers on strike in Bexley as well as parking attendants in Ealing. For the benefit of workers and the public, it’s time Serco was booted out of running public services altogether.

Co-op Academy staff under attack

NASUWT members at Co-op Academy in Manchester have called off a planned five day strike that would have started on Tuesday. Workers are in dispute over denied pay entitlement, excessive workloads and working conditions with inappropriate management and classroom observation practices.

The union says that staff morale is low as a result and that staff professionalism is being undermined. After some developments in discussions NASUWT says it has called off the strike to enable further progress through negotiation. 

Jac Casson NASUWT National Executive Member for Manchester said:

“The employer now needs to live up to the values of the Cooperative Society and agree to work with us to ensure that staff can have the decent working conditions they are entitled to and which will help them to continue to provide the highest quality of education for pupils.”

More teachers defending their pensions

NEU teachers at Alleyn Court prep school in Southend commenced six days of strike action this week in response to the school planning to remove them from the Teachers Pension Scheme. Strikes continue next week on July 13th, 14th and 15th with morning pickets.

The union says the trustees of the school have refused to reach any compromise and left workers with no choice but to strike in defence of their pension.  

NEU Regional secretary Paul McLaughlin said:

“We know that teachers at Alleyn Court have not been given pay increases in comparison to those in the public education sector who received 3.1 per cent. 

“They see the pension as a significant part of their condition. The Trustees are seeking to deprive them of this important benefit, offering a vastly inferior scheme in its place.”

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