Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
P&O ferries announced the disgraceful decision to fire all of its seafarers and replace them with agency staff. Counterfire’s Richard Allday looks at this in more detail on our website.
Manchester’s Trades Councils rally behind Chep workers
On Wednesday in Manchester, a day of solidarity was held for the striking workers at Chep in Trafford Park. The rally was organised by the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils and supported by the county's 10 different trades councils who brought their banners to be hung on the picket line.
The workers, members of Unite, are now entering week 16 of this epic strike and it would cost Chep, part of a multi-billion pound corporate group, less than £70k to settle.
To the strikers' credit, they are showing no signs of backing down but in order to win, they will need financial support. Please ask your union branch to make a donation to their strike fund and stop Chep's attempt at starving them back to work. Donations can be made to Unity Bank NW/1 Strike Fund. Account 20217873. Sort code 60-83-01.
Insourcing victory at GOSH
UVW cleaners at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) were set to join their Security Guard colleagues on the picket lines this week but have won full NHS contracts.
Following strike action last summer the cleaners were promised to be bought in house but bosses have been ‘dragging their feet’ and giving improved conditions in ‘drips and drabs’. Now from 1st April 2022 they will have full parity in terms and conditions with NHS staff.
Memuna Kabia, one of the GOSH cleaners said:
“We are all so happy. Our lives are going to change so much because now we know we are fully GOSH employees and it’s permanent. No more humiliation and bullying for us. No more disrespect.”
The GOSH security guards held another strike rally this week and the cleaners came along to show solidarity.
London teachers fight redundancy
NEU teachers at South Chingford Secondary School in East London have been on strike for several days this week fighting against redundancies and huge workload. You can send messages of solidarity to [email protected] and [email protected]
Strikes possible at FCA
Unite members at the Financial Conduct Authority are to ballot for strike action over severe cuts to pay and conditions. The CEO Nikhil Rathi has refused to negotiate with either Unite or ACAS, seemingly determined to push through cuts that would see staff losing regular payments that can make up 10-12% of their salaries.
Workers also face a ‘narrowing’ of pay bands while senior managers are offered even more generous pay, along with the enforcement of an unfair appraisal system that sees staff penalised even if they are performing well.
An indicative ballot in January suggests that over 80% of staff are willing to take strike action while many are leaving or considering doing so due to appalling treatment by management.
Gatwick ground handlers get 10%
Ground handling staff at Gatwick airport are celebrating a 10% pay deal. The 500 workers, members of the Unite union, are employed by logistics giant DHL on the easyJet contract. Having suffered during the pandemic, the workforce rejected the company’s attempt to impose a third successive pay freeze.
The union had made clear the members wanted pay to return to pre-pandemic levels and the ballot return left the company in no doubt as to the strength of feeling. Aviation is beginning to see a return to pre-Covid levels of activity; Gatwick is looking to re-open its South Terminal, and workers are starting to feel more confident.
With the workers’ clear intent to take industrial action, DHL returned to the table with an offer of 10% and (a big improvement) contractual sick pay.
Let’s hope this success is shared by the GH London Ground Handling Services members at Luton airport, who are currently balloting for strike action.
West Coast Main Line cleaners still out
RMT cleaners on the West Coast Mainline have picketed stations along the line in continuing strike action. The outsourced workers, employed by Atalian Servest to clean Avanti trains, are striking for a meaningful pay rise, a sick pay scheme and travel passes that would cost the company nothing while benefitting workers.
The most recent offer that they have received was a derisory pay rise of 6 pence per hour and a refusal to implement any sick pay. This has left these workers, lauded as heroes for working through the pandemic, with the impossible choice of potentially spreading diseases by working when they are ill or attempting to survive on notoriously inadequate Statutory Sick Pay.
They are determined to continue fighting for as long as it takes to win these vital concessions despite being denied the collective bargaining agreements of in-house Avanti workers.
The bins: victory amid further struggle
Bin workers continue to show the way forward for essential service staff, as GMB announced a victory in Wiltshire, with workers obtaining a 7% pay rise after a fortnight’s action. New strike dates for the union have now been put on in both Solihull, West Midlands, and Worthing & Adur, West Sussex. The Sussex action will run for two weeks until the 27th of March.
Gary Palmer, GMB organiser, said:
“Strike action is always our last resort, but GMB members are ready. It’s up to the officers at Adur and Worthing Council which way they want to play it.
“Adur and Worthing’s elected councillors should think about pressuring their directors and executive to formally speak with us GMB sooner rather than later.
“If we see a prolonged dispute, the decision not to speak with GMB may come back to haunt elected officials come election time in May.
“If residents are unhappy with rubbish on the streets and on their doorsteps, they can let their councillors know how they feel.”
In Solihull, the strikers have managed to put additional pressure on the now-outgoing employer, Amey, as this subcontractor is about to get replaced by rival privatisation-barons Veolia. Local GMB organizer Dave Warwick said in the local press:
"Amey has just two weeks to get around the table with GMB and stop massive disruption for the people of Solihull.
"A pay rise that means no more than the Real Living Wage for some, and nothing at all for others, is an insult. These workers were on duty right through the pandemic and now they want to be paid at least the industry average.
“Bosses need to negotiate with GMB in good faith and avoid rubbish collecting in the streets of Solihull.”
In Coventry, next door to Solihull, Unite bin workers have shrugged off another week of management and council intransigence and intimidation to deliver another solid 75%+ ballot to keep their action for pay, terms and conditions going well into Summer if necessary.
Coventry Labour council, which is increasingly hiding behind obscure and unlikely legal excuses to avoid negotiating with the union, has begun to drop hints to the media that it might try to circumvent collective bargaining altogether, though this is likely bluster for now. Unite organise Willie Howard posted to social media:
“Coventry strikers meeting with other local authority reps in the Midlands to set an industrial agenda on the job and to share how they brought about a thumping strike ballot.
“On the back of this meeting two other areas will now be preparing to issue strike ballots and we will be going on a roadshow across the depots to drum up the momentum.
“2022 will be the year of the refuse workers make no mistake. Unite the Union members - we’re world class.”
Lerwick Port Authority cruising for a bruising
Unite members working for the Lerwick Port Authority have voted unanimously for industrial action over changes to basic pay, overtime, standby and call-out payments, as well as their pension contributions.
The workers want to be paid the rate agreed in the construction industry (the NAECI agreement) and the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB). There will be an overtime ban from March 28, which will hit the cruise liners and oil and gas vessels badly, and if that doesn’t make the Authority see sense, they are prepared to take all-out strike action, which will shut the port entirely.
Lerwick is the main port in the Shetland Islands and has benefitted from a £30M upgrade; profit has increased by over 60% year on year, but the Authority wants to cut its wage bill!
First Bus West of England workers vote for strike action
The 1,400 drivers employed by First Bus West of England could bring the company to a halt if they don’t get a significantly improved pay offer. The Unite union has balloted its members and got a resounding rejection of the current offer and a clear mandate for strike action.
The company runs its fleet of over 600 buses out of six garages (Hengrove, Lawrence Hill, Weston, Bath, Wells and Bristol), with all depots returning a majority for strike, and 5 out of the 6 showing over 85% support. The company is now talking about preparing an improved offer.
Wilko’s Covid clampdown backfires
High street retailing fixture Wilko’s has withdrawn its initial edict to staff that they had to come into work with the virus. They have promptly clarified:
“Our advice to team members that have Covid symptoms or test positive is that while they’re no longer required by law to self-isolate, they should still stay at home and avoid contact with others.”
GMB’s Daniel Shears says: “There is a huge gap between the letter of the law and the reality of the situation, which is that expecting workers to come into workplace with Covid will only prolong the pandemic and put the health of others at risk.”
It’s looking increasingly clear that we haven’t seen the back of Covid. Our movement cannot concede an inch of the hard won ground on this issue. Safety first is a trade union maxim.
Hermes detoxifies with new name: can workers benefit?
The parcel courier Hermes has renamed itself “Evri” in attempt to reinflate its sagging reputation with customers and staff.
“This rebrand follows significant investment and two years of dramatic growth which has resulted in our entire business going through a major transformation programme,” says the bosses.
Part and parcel of this is a new deal for workers. GMB’s Steve Garelick says: “This breakthrough deal is a massive step forward and will make work better for GMB members. Tens of thousands of couriers will now have the safety and security of knowing their retirement plans are being looked after.
"Meanwhile, the right to maternity and paternity leave will break down barriers previously blocking those with children from entering the profession.”
News from the Frontline hope that this leopard can change its spots when it comes to drivers’ holiday pay, pensions and the other benefits management take for granted for themselves.
But we also know what to do when push comes to shove.
Truck assemblers strike in Southampton
Unite members working for VFS Southampton which assembled commercial vehicles have voted for 76 days of strike action, starting on March 29.
The workers have rejected a below-inflation deal of 3.65%.
Unite regional officer Scott Kemp said:
“Our members are taking strike action as a last resort. They are highly skilled and dedicated and are simply seeking a fair day’s pay.
“Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption to VFS’s clients, but even at this late stage stoppages could still be avoided if the employer returns to the negotiating table with an improved pay offer.”
RMT standing firm
RMT conductors on the Trans Pennine Express (TPE) fighting for pay justice are in their 4th wave of strike action and ‘standing firm’. Upcoming strike dates are 20, 27 March, 3, 16, 17, 30 April, 1 May and 4, 5 June.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:
“Our members refuse to be treated unfairly and will be continuing with industrial action until the pay discrimination is dealt with. The company need to wake up to that fact and we hope today's latest action will shake them out of their slumber”
UCU and NEU: workers deserve a pay rise
London NEU and London Region UCU have called a ‘Workers Deserve A Pay Rise’ Protest on Wednesday 23rd March which is budget day.
The protest will assemble at Westminster Cathedral at 6pm with a march to the rally at Emmanuel Centre on Marsham Street.
With the budget coming amongst the cost of living crisis with raising inflation, national insurance increases and surging fuel bills, unions taking this initiative is good to see.
GDST strikers accept offer
NEU Girls Day School Trust Teachers who commenced 6 days of strike action in defence of their pensions have voted to accept an offer from their employer.
The NEU said:
“Teachers have won the right to stay in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme; the threat of fire and rehire has been withdrawn, and an enhanced pay offer has been made for all staff, teachers and support staff”
Bosses were proposing to remove the workers from the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS) the union says it is still very concerned as the school is only keeping current staff on TPS and the pension scheme will be closed to new teachers.
NEU joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney said:
“NEU members of the GDST should be proud of the solidarity, resolution and spirit they have shown throughout this dispute. In standing up for their rights they were forced to take unprecedented and historic strike action to defend their pensions.”
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