The Woolwich Ferry has been beset by strike action this year

Woolwich Ferry workers will hold another one-day strike on 19 December in a dispute over pay.

Transport for London (TfL) is responsible for the service, which carries 20,000 cars and 50,000 passengers each week between Woolwich and North Woolwich, but it is currently run by contractor Briggs Marine. The service has already been halted by 10 days of strikes this year.

Ferry workers claim they are not being paid the London Living Wage – set by the Living Wage Foundation as fair pay for workers in the capital. Because Transport for London is a Living Wage accredited employer, all employees – including those working for contractors – must be paid at least £10.75 per hour.

Briggs says it does pay the London Living Wage, and insists the Unite union’s claims are “factually incorrect and misleading”.

The dispute centres on the way wages are calculated – the total pay for ferry workers is above the Living Wage threshold, but much of this comes from add ons for extra duties.

Unite accepts that the captain and mate are paid the London Living Wage, but says all lower ranking staff are not.

A senior deck hand on the ferry earns £17,591 in basic pay each year, with £16,363 of add-ons. Deck hands earn the same basic wage, with £14,522 in enhancements. The union says that this works out as £9.39 an hour in basic pay – below the London Living Wage.

Lower ranking staff, such as car park workers and traffic crews responsible for loading cars onto the ferry, are paid less.

Most add-ons to basic pay cannot be included when calculating the London Living Wage, according to the Living Wage Foundation. It says guaranteed bonus payments like London weighting can be included, but anything dependent on job performance cannot.

The union believes that relying on enhancements to basic pay leaves workers vulnerable, because employers could remove them at a later date.

‘Horror show’

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said employment practice on the ferry was a “horror show” and TfL should review its contract with Briggs.

He said: “It is understatement to say the management at Briggs has a very poor record when it comes to employment relations over a number of years. Unfortunately, bad employment practice seems endemic within the management team as they continue to ignore previous agreements on job evaluation and equalities, and they ‘slice and dice’ the pay of an already low-paid workforce.”

Kasab said the London Living Wage calculation was “absolutely black and white”, and Briggs should not include overtime or pay enhancements when working it out.

A spokesperson for Briggs Marine said the union’s claims were “factually incorrect and misleading”.

He said: “The company pays in excess of the London Living Wage, for all staff, as specifically confirmed by the Living Wage Foundation.

“Unite has repeatedly – and again on Wednesday – stated that this is a ‘pay dispute’. In this regard, the company has made a comprehensive, progressive and long term offer that Unite has said it wishes to discuss further. 

“We therefore find this threatened action both unhelpful and needless and we call on Unite to continue working with us to avoid further disruption to the public.”

Briggs Marine has been responsible for the Woolwich Ferry since 2012, with its contract ending in March. Last month, Sadiq Khan said he was considering if TfL should take over the service.

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Jessie Mathewson is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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