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Menzies bus. Photo: Eddie / Flickr / CC BY-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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Ground handling Unite members at the UK’s second largest airport have secured a meaty 10% pay rise.

These workers are employed by Menzies Aviation. This settlement follows hot on the heels of a similar one brokered with DHL at the airport.

Unite’s Sharon Graham says:

“This is a welcome pay increase for our members at Menzies and builds on the good work by Unite’s reps across Gatwick Airport to challenge low pay. Unite has consistently warned aviation employers that unless they address the sector’s poor pay and conditions, they will struggle to recruit and retain the workers they need.”

Aviation is one sector where we can see workers on the front foot. They’re getting what they want without taking action. Let’s get this boldness generalised throughout the whole of our class.

GMB cleaners strike in Tooting

Outsourced cleaners, hostesses and porters at St. Georges Hospital in Tooting are to stage a 24 hour strike on May 30 after employer Mitie reportedly underpaid staff by up to £800.

Further action is planned for June 6 & 7 should Mitie continue to refuse to meet with GMB representatives to resolve pay issues and avert highly disruptive action.

NHS strikes loom over Lancs

The long running dispute over pay and conditions for outsourced staff at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust rumbles on as workers employed by OCS across 8 sites consider strike action.

Although earlier action has seen their hourly pay rate raised to match that of directly employed colleagues, the rise was not backdated to when the pay claim was submitted and they are still denied the same unsocial hours pay enhancements and holiday entitlements as NHS workers, leaving them worse off despite working alongside them in the same jobs.

GMB to ballot bin workers in the Isle of Wight 

Refuse workers in the Isle of Wight are being balloted for strike action by GMB union over a large pay disparity with workers employed on the mainland. In another case of refuse workers who are outsourced by the council, in this case to Amey, essential worker are  being paid unfairly for the sake of private profits. 

GMB regional organiser Adrian Baker said: 

“Our members on the island are subject to the same inflation, interest rate rises, national insurance levels and all other increases employees across the country are subject to. 

“It is hardly a surprise that Isle of Wight residents are second from bottom in the south of England when it comes to average pay earnings when an employer directly linked to the council thinks it can get away with this.”

Caterpillar conflict digs in

Belfast Caterpillar workers have pledged to continue striking for real terms pay deal after four weeks so far. The Unite workers, split between two 80-strong factories, have denounced the employer for failing to negotiate and are continuing to picket strongly at both sites.

Baggage handlers at Heathrow: Unite delivers a victory

Two hundred baggage handlers and truckers at Heathrow have secured a 7.5% pay rise topped up with a £1000 one-off payment.

The bosses are Worldwide Flight Services and their opening gambit had been a suggested pay freeze. The threat of strike action soon put pay to that.

Unite’s Sharon Graham says:

“This pay victory for our Worldwide Flight Services’ members is another reminder that Unite is determined to get our members across the UK pay awards that help combat rocketing living costs. Our members stood together, ready to take industrial action to win improved pay and their solidarity has paid off.”

The inconvenient truth is that negotiators need to be batting harder than 7.5% these days Unite would be wise to exploit aviation labour shortages to the hilt.

Dundee Uni support staff in major dispute

Both Unite and Unison support staff at the University of Dundee are currently in dispute over pensions. The workers, all most all non-teaching and service grades, are fighting the replacement of their defined benefit scheme to a significantly worse defined contribution scheme.

Unison workers have returned to work following four weeks of strike action, but still have a mandate to strike again. They are now likely to be joined by their Unite colleagues following a successful ballot of those grades. Dates are still to be announced.

Rebellion at sea

A complaint about health and safety on an offshore wind farm is currently escalating into a full-blown dispute in a sector not known for militancy. The RMT union is currently balloting its members working for Orsted Walney Operation after a member was bullied and ultimately dismissed for reporting a concern to the authorities, which resulted in an official report the company refuses to allow access to.

Meanwhile, there are reports that possibly as many as a thousand workers have downed tools on oil rigs in the North Sea over pay. Unite has stated that it has “only recently” heard about the dispute, indicating that the action is likely to be a wildcat strike. Posts from the workforce have protested low pay in the face of colossal profits currently being enjoyed by the fossil fuel companies. Campaigners for a windfall tax on energy are saying that the dispute supports the case for making the companies pay.

UCU goes on the offensive for North West FE

Six colleges across the North West were due to strike this week as staff sought to finally gain some ground after years of below-inflation pay deals.

Bury College settled the day before strike action was set to begin, securing a deal worth 6% and leading the way for their union colleagues elsewhere. Burnley, City of Liverpool, Hopewood Hall and Nelson & Colne Colleges did strike on Thursday with lively pickets and Manchester College went out on Friday.

Whilst acknowledging 6% is still below inflation, the deal in Bury was double what was originally offered and is correctly being seen as a victory due to the increase in union membership at the college which is at 70% density and counting. These strikes are the result of many months of organising on the ground and will make future pay rises more achievable.

Wiltshire traffic wardens step up their action

As previously reported in News from the Frontline, aggrieved parking enforcement officers at Wilshire Council have taken their anger onto the streets with strike action.

Tuesday 17 May was a traffic warden free zone in Wiltshire. The bosses are refusing to go to Acas and the workers are lining up more strike days. 

These workers aren’t fighting for a pay rise; they’re fighting against a pay cut.

GMB’s Keith Roberts said:

“Our members simply cannot afford to lose this money. They have rent and mortgages to pay, are struggling with through-the-roof energy prices and inflation is rampant. There was a 100% solid strike on Saturday 7 May, sending a clear message to the council this pay cut is going to be fought every inch of the way.”

Here’s their strike fund details- please give generously.

Draper Pyrgo teachers strike against “kick in the teeth” restructure 

NEU members at Draper Pyrgo Priory School in Harold’s Hill began six days of strike action this week against a restructuring plan that will see hours and pay grade cuts. The school is run by Drapers’ Multi-Academy Trust who have chosen to introduce this restructure that will be detrimental for teachers during a soaring cost-of-living crisis. 

The NEU has described the restructure plans as “socially irresponsible” and “a kick in the teeth for the staff who kept the school running during the pandemic.” 

The strike will continue next week on 24-25 May, and then on 7-9 June. If you can, please get down to the picket lines and show your support. 

PCS President Fran Heathcote calls for united resistance to stop 91,000 civil service job cuts - the whole trade union movement must come together against the planned civil service job cuts, argues PCS President Fran Heathcote.

Universities dispute in danger: are local settlements the thin end of the wedge? - the UCU lecturers' dispute is in danger of fragmentation. There is an appetite to fight but, to win, the unions urgently need to change tack, argue Counterfire UCU members.

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