BY JAMES TWOMEY
Workers on a ferry which carries 20,000 vehicles a week have announced they will go on strike for 10 days starting next Friday.
The Woolwich Ferry staff – who operate the route between Woolwich and North Woolwich – have been in a bitter dispute with their employers, Briggs Marine Ltd, since January and talks have broken down, leading to 10 days of action spread across May and June.
The strike dates planned are May 17, 20, 24, 28, and 31 which will be followed by another five days on June 3, 7, 10, 14 and 17.
The staff’s union Unite called the walkout over health and safety, pay and a lack of staffing.
The 31 workers say employees’ job titles, including their roles, were changed when new hybrid boats were introduced.
Part of their dispute is that the workers believe this change was not mentioned in the consultation taken before the company restructured.
Unite regional officer, Onay Kasab, said: “A new service was launched earlier this year and the current dispute follows a restructuring which means fewer staff operating the ferry.
“It also results in significantly less pay for our members as more staff are on a shift system, so overtime is no longer payable, hence the six per cent claim for a hike in basic pay.
“We also have serious safety concerns. Since the new boats arrived in January 2019 the emergency diesel fire pumps have not worked on both vessels.
“The ferries do have back-up electric fire pumps. However, if there was a blackout or the service were to lose electrical power, which can happen, then there would be potential dangers to passengers and staff, as there would be no working fire extinguishers.
“There is still time for the management to enter into a constructive dialogue with Unite before the strikes start on May 17, and we would urge the company to do so urgently.”
Two years ago, there was a long-running dispute at the ferry with the same employer, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London, over a bullying culture and health and safety issues.
A striking worker, who wished not to be named, said: “What we have, once again, are managers who think it is okay to shout, swear and threaten staff. “It’s not just a bit of swearing – it feels like it will turn into a fight at any minute.
It’s not what you need to be thinking about on your way into work.”
A spokeswoman for Briggs Marine said: “Ahead of recent very significant investment at Woolwich Free Ferry, staff changes were fully consulted upon. “New positions with revised roster arrangements were negotiated over an extended period of time before being finally agreed at ACAS in 2018.
“Unite has made it plain to Briggs that their current dispute is over pay and the union has placed a series of demands which amount to a wage increase well in excess of 30 per cent.
“They have developed a range of justifications for this increase including that it is compensation for lack of overtime payments. The new vessels naturally require less maintenance and support than the previous 55-year-old ones.
“Briggs has been in discussion with ACAS regarding Unite’s action and we will work very hard to avoid any disruption to the travelling public.”