BY JAMES TWOMEY
Thousands of river crossing commuters could see their travel plans disrupted because ferry workers are holding a ballot on Thursday to decide on whether to take industrial action.
Staff on the Woolwich Ferry, used by 2.6million people a year, are in a dispute over health and safety, pay and a lack of staffing.
The 31 workers – part of the Unite union – are employed by shipping company Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd.
The union said 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 a few days ago 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.
“I think the public have every reason to be concerned at fewer staff operating the ferry as this raises, in our view, serious health and safety issues.”
Mr Kasab went on to say that the shipping company introduced a lone working rule for traffic co-ordinators that help passengers disembark, even though there had been instances of them being assaulted by passengers in the past.
He said: “The workers also take issue with the new design of the boat that makes it easier for passengers to access areas that they are not allowed in.”
The workers have until March 6 to cast their votes and 50 per cent on the workers must vote for any action to take place.
By law, the workers must alert Briggs Marine Ltd 14 days before the planned strike action.
Mr Kasab said: “I would hope the employer will come to us before strike action as we are confident we will get the ballot.
I hope they will come and sit down with us but I do not have any confidence in the management to negotiate a deal, the mess we are in is testament to that.
“Unfortunately, I’m expecting strike action but we want to reach an agreement.”
A spokeswoman for Briggs Marine Ltd, said: “The only comment that Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd would like to make at this time is that we do not recognise the need for strike action and remain open to discussions with Unite.”
About 20,000 vehicles a week use the free service across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London.
There has been a ferry at the site since the 14th century.