Workers, who operate the Woolwich Ferry used by an estimated 2.6 million passengers a year, will stage a 24 hour strike on Thursday (19 December), after last ditch talks in a pay dispute broke down yesterday (Monday 16 December).

The 56 workers, members of Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, who are employed by Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd, had voted unanimously for strike action which will start at 00.01 on Thursday.

Unite said that there has been a long history of poor managerial practice by the company.

The latest dispute centres on the failure to pay the London living wage (currently £10.75 an hour) on basic pay; the imposition of changes to overtime and shift working; failure to adhere to the agreed job evaluation scheme; and failure to deal with equality issues.

In the summer there were 10 days of strikes on similar issues, but that failed to bring a resolution. Unite then re-balloted its members and, as a result, they will now hold a day’s strike on Thursday.

Two years ago, there was an acrimonious and long-running dispute at the ferry with the same employer, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), over a bullying culture and health & safety issues.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “Last ditch negotiations took place yesterday, but failed to make the necessary breakthrough. Unite entered talks in the hope that the employer would adopt a constructive approach.

“Instead the company made vague proposals for yet another restructuring – the last so-called ‘restructuring’ saw the workforce cut by a third. Also, the management gave no figures and refused to deal with the issue of racism.

“We are not turkeys and we are not voting for Christmas. The bosses asked us to agree to a reduction in the opportunities to work overtime - which makes up a large part of the earnings for many of our members.

“In return, our members were expected to accept a new pay structure with no figures attached. When we refused to countenance this insulting offer, the management walked out.

“It is an understatement to say the management at Briggs Marine Contractors has a very poor record when it comes to employment relations over a number of years.

“It is now time for the Greater London Authority (GLA) and TfL to say ‘enough is enough’. This vital service for the travelling public should be taken back ‘in house’.

“We regret the inconvenience that the strike will cause the ferry’s users, but our members feel they have been backed into a corner by a hardline management.”

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. An estimated 2.6 million passengers also use the ferry annually.

There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065

Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.