The Woolwich Ferry faces more strikes

Woolwich Ferry workers will strike again in February and March after Unite union members voted unanimously to walk out for 24 hours on 28 February and 13 March.

They claim not all staff are paid the London Living Wage, and object to changes to shift patterns that have normalised weekend working.

The free service, which carries more than 7,000 people and almost 3,000 cars across the river every day between Woolwich and North Woolwich, is run by the Scottish firm Briggs Marine on behalf of Transport for London.

Unite claims the lowest paid workers receive less than the London Living Wage – currently £10.75 an hour. Both Briggs and TfL have signed up to pay the wage. Briggs denies the union’s claim.

Their dispute hinges on how the Living Wage is calculated – the total pay for ferry staff meets the threshold, but a significant proportion of their salaries come from add-ons for extra duties.

Only guaranteed bonuses can be included with basic pay when calculating the Living Wage, according to its accreditor, the Living Wage Foundation. The fair pay organisation says anything dependent on job performance is not allowed.

Speaking at Mayor’s Question Time earlier this month, Sadiq Khan said he had “checked out” the dispute and believed all workers were being paid the London Living Wage. He called on Briggs and the union to “roll their sleeves up, get round the table and resolve this issue”.

TfL’s sponsored service manager Danny Price said Briggs was complying with the rules: “We require all contractors working on our services or sites to pay the London Living Wage as set out by the Living Wage Foundation, and take any suggestion that a contractor may not be complying seriously.”

But Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said Briggs had a “dismal record” on relations with it workforce, saying the company chose to “‘slice and dice’ the pay of an already low-paid workforce”. He called on TfL to review its contract with Briggs, saying: “Unfortunately, it is the travelling public who will bear the brunt of the company’s unacceptable behaviour to its staff.”

A spokesperson for Briggs said: “We continue to press for meaningful negotiations with Unite, and call on the union to suspend the reported strikes to prevent further disruption to the travelling public.”

Briggs has run the ferry since 2012, and its contract will be reviewed later this year.

In November, the mayor apologised for delays on the service after the introduction of new energy-efficient boats. He said he was considering whether TfL should run the service itself when the current contract ends.

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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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