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UK workplace news roundup, August 2010
Recent industrial news from the UK, including transport strikes in Liverpool, walkouts at West Lothian Council and Southampton libraries, and strike ballots for London firefighters, ambulance drivers, and tube staff.
Bin workers strike at West Lothian council
Refuse workers at West Lothian Council have taken strike action over a pay cut being imposed as part of the downgrading of their jobs.
All refuse workers face a job downgrade which will amount to a cut of at least £2,800 a year. The first 24-hour strike took place on Friday the 27th of August, and was sanctioned by the GMB union.
The action, which involved 93 workers, follows the council implementing what it says are its legal obligations to equalise pay for similar skill levels in order to close the pay gap between men and women in the public sector – traditionally ‚female‘ jobs have historically been less well paid than ‚male‘ jobs of a similar skill level. Strikes have followed similar moves at other councils around the UK, as councils attempt to ’solve‘ the problem of low pay for female workers being cutting the pay for traditionally ‚male‘ jobs, rather than raising those of ‚female‘ jobs.
Bus strikes in Liverpool
Bus workers have begun a four-day strike in Liverpool over pay.
Workers at Stagecoach Liverpool have been offered a 2% pay offer by management, which represents a real-terms pay cut when inflation is running at 4.5%. The action, backed by the Unite union, involves hundreds of staff and stands to hit one in five buses in the Liverpool area. The strike began on Friday, and is running until Tuesday.
London Underground Strikes Announced
200 Alstom-Metro maintenance workers on the London underground have voted for strike action over a management pay offer.
According to the RMT union, which organised the strike ballot, the offer on the table is significantly lower than comparable pay offers for other parts of the London Underground workforce. The first strike will take place on the 5th of September, with further 24-hour strikes to follow in October and November.
The announcement follows an overwhelming strike vote from RMT and TSSA union members over plans to close ticket offices around the capital with the loss of around 800 jobs. 10,000 workers including drivers and station staff stand to take part in the strike action. The first of four one-day strikes is due to start on September the 6th. An indefinite overtime ban will also apply as part of the action.
Southampton Librarians Strike
Library workers in Southampton struck for two days on the 12th and 16th of August in protest against the council’s scrapping of two libraries and the replacement of staff with unpaid volunteers.
The strikes follow earlier action in June, after the council announced the closure of Millbrook and Thornhill libraries last year. Millbrook library remains one of the last remaining public services in that area of the city.
The attacks on public services and public sector workers under Southampton’s Tory council are a foretaste of what is looming on a national scale, with the “big society” of volunteers being the pretext for job cuts and rolling back vital services.
London hospital drivers and firefighters balloted
The Fire Brigades Union has launched a ballot of its members in London after management scuppered negotiations and moved to cancel existing contracts and impose new ones on staff, which would involve different shift times and working hours. Ballot papers are due to be issued at the end of the month, with action possible from September onwards.
Meanwhile, members of the GMB union employed by the London Ambulance Service are being balloted at the time of writing over the privatisation of key services. The staff are employed to transport patients across the capital to sites and take them to and from hospital. The South London Healthcare NHS Trust has put the service out to tender.
The contract covers London Ambulance employees in Greenwich, Barnhurst and Bromley, who transport patients to Kings College, Lewisham, Royal Marsden and Guys & St Thomas hospitals, and has been awarded to Savoy Ventures Ltd. At a meeting where Savoy representatives were invited to discuss the takeover with GMB members, they made clear their intention to ignore Transfer of undertakings (TUPE) legislation, flouting employment law, cutting the outer-london weighting allowance and threatening “downward harmonisation” from current pay levels to those of Savoy’s lowest-paid workers. Such flouting of the law would be in keeping with the transfer of the contract, as public procurement laws stating that contracts should not be awarded to companies whose directors preciously oversaw insolvent companies were ignored. Robert Lawrence Adams, who runs Savoy, was previously involved in companies still owing money to HM Revenue and Customs.
BAA: Strike threat forces management’s hand
Contrary to the claims of millionaire prime minister David Cameron, who attacked BAA workers resisting a real-terms pay cut by claiming strikes “never work”, the threat alone of a walkout at many of Britain’s airports has forced management to increase their offer by a third.
The strike by security staff, firefighters, and over vital airport workers would have led to the closure of some of Britain’s busiest airports.
The new offer, which the Unite union is recommending to its members, sees the 1.5% offer increased to 2% and the offer of a bonus of at least £500 should certain targets be met. However, whether workers will accept this is another issue – 2% is still a pay cut with inflation running at 4.5%, and it seems the union may be taking the criticism of right-wing papers to heart following its high-profile involvement in the BA cabin crew walkouts. That dispute remains ongoing, with no new strike dates announced despite cabin crew rejecting BA’s latest offer. It is a possibility that the union is worried about gaining a “militant” reputation, and has similarly been playing down the chances ofs trike action against the government’s austerity measures.