Ferry workers in Woolwich, east London, walked out on strike last Friday in solidarity with their union representative who is being victimised by management.
“They only come for the reps so they can start attacking the workers,” the Unite union’s regional officer Onay Kasab told pickets.
Bosses claim union rep Mark didn’t correctly deal with an onboard oil spill. He was subsequently demoted from his role as captain and given a warning, following a disciplinary hearing.
Mark and his colleagues deny the bosses’ accusations.
Mark told Socialist Worker, “When we raise complaints about safety or whatever, it turns to finger pointing and victimisation.
“Bosses want negotiations now but a while ago they completely refused to speak to the union.”
“The staff and union aren’t listened to or taken into account.”
Alongside the issue of victimisation, workers are also angry at the failure to finalise a new pay and reward scheme.
And they are against the use of agency staff and the failure to provide adequate health and safety training.
“People are pissed off, health and safety has gone down the drain,” Mark added.
“Management hasn’t learnt from the death of a young lad a few years ago who fell from the ferry.
“We’ve lost experienced staff and they’re replaced with untrained or agency workers.”
The dispute involves 57 workers—and 97 percent of them voted to strike. The majority of workers joined the picket line and stopped the ferry’s operation.
Transport for London (TfL) took over the ferry’s operations from Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd because of a pattern of poor employee relations.
Despite the new operators, problems haven’t been resolved.
Further strike dates have been called for 24 and 28 May and 1, 4, 7, 11 and 21 June with plans to announce more if the issues aren’t resolved.
The ferry is a vital Thames crossing that connects the boroughs of Newham and Greenwich.
Before the pandemic, an estimated 2.6 million passengers used the ferry annually.
Kasab said, “It is a sad indictment of the TfL bosses that they seem to be following the same course as Briggs Marine Contractors which meted out some appalling employment practices to the workforce in the recent past.
“Our members have returned an overwhelming mandate for strike action at the Woolwich Ferry in support of their victimised shop steward and over a myriad of other employment issues.
“The strikes will cause disruption, with commuters returning to their workplaces in the capital following the easing of lockdown.”
Following the hardships of the pandemic, the workers are determined to win and to escalate action if necessary.