Crunch talks to resolve the long-running Woolwich Ferry rep victimisation dispute yesterday (Tuesday 10 August) between Transport for London (TfL) bosses and Unite the union broke down with the union accusing TfL of ‘bad faith’.

Unite, which represents 57 ferry workers, had suspended industrial action as a goodwill gesture in the run-up to the talks – but its members were back on strike today (Wednesday 11 August) and will be striking on Friday (13 August). Prior to today, there has already been 24 days of strike action.

Besides the victimisation of the two Unite reps, there has also been a failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme; the excessive use of agency staff; and the failure to provide adequate health and safety training to new employees – these are issues which have arisen since TfL took back control from the discredited Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd in January this year.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We were making good progress with the union agreeing to a proposal from TfL to meet through workshops to discuss a new collective agreement. However, the employers made their pay offer which was worse than the last offer - and they then refused to budge. 

“Our members had suspended strike action as a goodwill gesture, but feel that they have been badly let down by another abject example of TfL’s bad faith and, as a result, they are back on strike today. The management is game playing, which we feared would happen. 

“Since the strike action began, there have been two incidents which have shown the value of our members. Firstly, a member of the public was rescued from the river when a ferry worker took the initiative to take a boat out and save this person from drowning. 

“In the second, it was a Unite representative who identified a ‘missing person’ who was on one of the boats – this is the same Unite representative who has been disciplined for doing no more than carrying out his legitimate trade union duties. Yesterday’s reaction from management was to treat these workers with utter disdain and contempt. 

“We are not looking for awards or ‘thanks’ – we simply want the right recognition for workers carrying out an increasingly important role. The ferry service will be an essential travel service as TfL looks to implement more environmentally sustainable travel policies. 

“The recent flooding in the Blackwall Tunnel showed the importance of the service – immediately our members agreed to work when they were not due to do so in order that commuters could get home as safely and as quickly as possible. This is an excellent example of public service. 

“TfL needs to make its mind up – either it wants to carry on playing games, or it can start taking negotiations seriously. For our part, we are still ready to talk – but equally, we are resolute and determined to win fairness, dignity and respect. Strikes into the autumn are very much on the cards.” 

Before the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020 about 20,000 vehicles a week were using the free service across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London. Pre-Covid-19, an estimated 2.6 million passengers also used 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]

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