Cleaning workers on East Coast and London Midland rail routes became the latest cleaners to launch strikes for higher pay when they walked out on Monday 10 September.
The cleaners work for contractor ISS, and are paid marginally above the minimum wage (between 42p and £1.42 more). Cleaners at depots in Northampton, Bletchley, and King’s Heath (which are all operated by London Midland) have already struck for 24 hours. The workers have not received a pay increase for three years, and are demanding a living wage.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers union (RMT), said:
“Our members at ISS on the London Midland contract have already staged a rock-solid stoppage at three depots, and they will be joined on September 10 by workers on the East Coast contract where the feeling is running so high that only one vote was cast against taking action.
“ISS should take note of the clear anger of its staff and cough up a decent pay offer, and East Coast and London Midland should get their heads out of the sand and recognise their own responsibility to make sure it happens – or better still bring the contracts back in-house.”
RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley was arrested on an East Coast cleaners’ picket line at Kings Cross station in London after he intervened to question the unexplained harassment and detention of pickets by the police. He was held for five hours, but not charged.
Strike threat at Birmingham Airport
Unite says it is “making preparations” for an industrial action ballot of its members at Birmingham Airport after they rejected their bosses’ latest contract offer.
The offer included a 2.5 per cent pay increase, and a one-off non-consolidated payment of £150. Prior to the offer, workers’ pay has been frozen since 2009, since when the retail price index (RPI) has leapt 13%.
Workers have also faced attacks on terms and conditions and their pension schemes. Bosses are now also proposing changes to shift patterns.
New routes at the airport have meant an increase in passengers, so the attacks come against the backdrop of an increased workload for staff. Unite’s most recent consultative ballot on the offer returned a 76.5% vote against.
Regional Officer Peter Coulson said: “Birmingham airport is taking off but management have grounded their workers’ pay. Staff have endured years of pay freezes and to make matters worse their pensions and conditions have been slashed. Unite has even proposed third party intervention from Acas to assist in reaching an agreement in the negotiations but even this has been decisively refused by the airport. Our members’ patience is running out.
“The airport is forcing a dispute and we have no option but to prepare for an industrial action ballot.”
Cleaners at the Société Générale bank demonstrated on Thursday 6 September to protest management plans to cut their hours in half, leading to a drastic pay cut. Union pressure has forced management to agree a substantial wage increase to the London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour, but the increase will be almost meaningless if bosses force through their cuts.
Government u-turn on compensation cuts
The government has backed down from plans to restrict eligibility to criminal injury compensation.
Their cuts would have made those claiming compensation related to the consequences of railways trespass (for example, drivers traumatised by suicide attempts) ineligible.
A motion to the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference from rail union RMT highlighted the issue, and trade union lawyers have been involved in the lobbying that forced the climbdown.
Combatting the blacklist
Trade unions are stepping up their legal action over the employers’ blacklist in the construction industry.
Construction union UCATT is taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights which will argue that the government’s failure to outlaw blacklisting breached Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee the freedom of association and protection from discrimination.
The GMB union is demanding that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) immediately informs blacklisted workers of their status, claiming that so far, only 194 of more than 3,000 workers whose names appear on the list have been notified.
The blacklist was first discovered in 2009. 44 construction companies were involved. It has since come to light that the information it contained could only have been obtained through the collusion of state bodies, suggesting government complicity in the blacklisting practises.
The GMB is also arguing for blacklisting companies to have public sector contracts cancelled, and for no new contracts to be awarded. Currently, blacklisting companies hold public sector contracts totalling £15 billion.
Yorkshire health workers vote to strike
Admin and Clerical staff at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which covers Wakefield (Pinderfields), Pontefract, and Dewsbury hospitals, have voted by 95% to strike and by 98% for industrial action short of a strike against the redundancies and pay cuts.
Alongside most other hospitals, the Trust is carrying out a workforce review including proposals for extensive downbanding (workers being demoted to a lower pay grade). In this case between 30 and 40 staff are facing compulsory redundancy and up to 200 staff face downbanding. This means pay cuts of £1,600 to £2,800.
The Unison branch, which is led by left-wingers and has a good record of fighting cuts and redundancies, has held members’ meetings across all sites, mobilised members for a day of protest in August and is building its membership in the sections significantly.
The overwhelming vote for action shows the strength of feeling about these attacks amongst a predominantly low-paid female workforce.