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From barristers to ferry workers to journalists—struggle and strike round-up

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Workers in several areas including barristers, Red Funnel ferry workers, firefighters and journalists are on strike or ready to strike
Issue 2816
A big group of gowned and wigged barristers stand with strike placards outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Barristers have shown they will strike

Battles in the courts 

Criminal barristers continued their strikes this week with five days of action. 

They are striking  on alternate weeks, so the next set of strikes is 15-19 August, and then 30 August to 2 September 

They are fighting for their own pay rates and in defence of access to justice. Barristers want a 15 percent increase in fees for cases in the current backlog and then further improvements.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which is organising the action, says, “We have never seen such solidarity amongst our members. In particular, in our dedicated national zoom meeting with those under 7 years’ call [working in the profession] every single participant confirmed that they were determined to continue the action without interruption.”

Pressure is growing for more hard-hitting strikes.

Kirsty Brimelow, CBA vice chair, tweeted this week, “Just completed our Heads of Chambers’ meeting where we discussed the ongoing action. Views now being expressed by many barristers nationally to escalate and stop work in the courts altogether.”

  • PCS union officials have suspended a planned strike by outsourced security guards working for the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

The workers are employed by agency OCS, whose bosses made a new offer “which amounts to a minimum pay increase of 8.3 percent.” The PCS is now balloting workers on whether to accept.

The new offer is an improvement but still a real terms pay cut. More could be won by striking.

But union officials suspended the strikes after bosses made a new offer “which amounts to a minimum pay increase of 8.3 percent.” It is now balloting workers on whether to accept the offer.

The new offer is an improvement. But, with inflation at nearly 12 percent, is still a real terms pay cut for at least some workers. Forcing concessions from bosses shows more could be won by striking.

Red Funnel ferry workers confront rotten conditions

Low paid ferry workers who operate services between Southampton and the Isle of White employed by Red Funnel kicked off 12 days of strikes last week.

The workers are furious that their £9.50 an hour wages are overshadowed by their owners’ mass profits. 

Red Funnel is owned by the £11.5 billion West Midlands Pension Fund and the £3.5 billion Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.

Workers are often away from home for days at time and are only paid the hours they work onboard the ferry, with no overnight subsidies provided for food or other expenses.

The overnight accommodation is within Red Funnel’s Southampton headquarters. Workers are given no cooking facilities except a microwave.

Workers report long standing problems with ant infestations and sleep is often disturbed by office staff coming into work. 

These workers ensure the safety on the ferries—poor sleep and conditions undermines that. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “There is no justification for Red Funnel and its owners, who have billions in the bank, to pay such disgraceful wages. Unite will fight them every step of the way until there is a decent pay offer.”  

The poor pay and conditions mean Red Funnel regularly cancel services as they struggle to maintain staff. July had eight days where services were cancelled.

Workers were set to continue strikes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week and then Tuesday and Thursday next week.

Further action is planned.

Unite the pay strikes against Arriva bosses 

Around 800 bus drivers employed by Arriva in Kent and Essex, are being balloted for industrial action in a dispute over pay.

They join Arriva drivers in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire who are also being balloted.

Unite says strikes could begin before the end of next month after Arriva has only been prepared to offer a 7.8 percent pay increase. 

The union should push for all-out action as happened in Yorkshire and is currently happing in the north west of England but also unite all sections of Arriva workers.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Arriva and its parent company, Deutsche Bahn, are fabulously wealthy and can fully afford to make our members a decent pay offer.”

If workers vote for strikes,  action would hit services from depots in Colchester, Harlow, Southend, Gillingham, Maidstone, Gravesend and Tunbridge Wells.

Battle at AQA examiners

Workers at AQA exam board struck for three days from Friday last week. They are battling bosses’ intransigence and poverty pay.

Some 180 workers have been hit with an insulting 3 percent pay offer this year, after accepting a rise of just 0.6 percent last year.

Bosses are now threatening a programme of fire and rehire attacks, unless workers accept the derisory offer.

Strikers mounted picket lines at the AQA office in Devas Street, Manchester.


Leaders of the FBU union have said they are preparing to ballot firefighters for strikes over pay.

Firefighters overwhelmingly rejected bosses’ offer of a tiny 2 percent pay increase—a massive real terms pay cut—after years of similar cuts and freezes. The FBU union said last week that “the necessary work to prepare a ballot for national strike action will continue” after bosses refused to improve their offer.

  • Environment Agency workers could be moving towards strikes after a rubbish pay offer.

Bosses’ final offer was a “rise” of just 2 percent plus £345.

Most agency workers got no rise at all last year—after a decade of below inflation pay rises.

Unison union national officer Donna Rowe-Merriman said, “Wages have failed to keep up with inflation for many years and agency staff have lost out as a result.

“Enough is enough. We are at a point where members can’t cope on what they are being paid.”

  • Hitachi Rail workers in Doncaster struck for three days from last Monday to Wednesday over pay and conditions.

The RMT union members are fighting for a deal on breaks, leave entitlement, shift length and pay. 

Hitachi Rail bosses previously offered a 7.5 percent pay rise but then decided to withdraw paid meal breaks and a reduction in the working week. 

RMT members decided to reject the package because it was inferior to deals given to other workers on Hitachi Doncaster and Hitachi North Pole. 

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “Our members know the value of their work and will not be short changed by Hitachi Rail. 

“Private rail operators need to stop trying to play workers off against one another.”

Jobs fight at Scotsman

Journalists at the Scotsman newspaper are balloting for strikes over compulsory job losses. 

Bosses have announced plans to cut 30 jobs at the newspaper, its sister title the Edinburgh Evening News and some smaller weekly papers.

Members of the NUJ union are demanding no compulsory redundancies. Their ballot is set to end on Wednesday of next week.

Meanwhile, NUJ members at Reach—which publishes the Mirror, the Daily Express and several local newspapers and websites—are balloting for strikes over pay.

Reach bosses have offered them a pay increase of just 3 percent despite declaring a “strong cash balance” and awarding £14 million in dividends to shareholders.

The ballot—of some 1,000 people—is set to end on Friday of next week.

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