Ferry workers win pay and conditions battle

A Greenwich Unite member

Unite members working on the Woolwich Ferry have scored a big victory against Briggs Marine who run the boat service on behalf of Transport for London.

A number of grievances had been outstanding for some time, with no prospect of the employer ever intending to reach an agreement. Workers were angry at pay disparities, cuts to sick pay (with one worker who has cancer receiving a demand in the post for overpaid sick pay!), use of agency staff and the lack of an inflation matching pay increase. A meeting finally took place involving regional officials, at the request of the membership. At this meeting, the employer refused, point blank, to move on any of the issues raised by the union.

Previously, management stated they did not care about a strike ballot and nor did Transport for London. The 100% yes vote for strike action soon changed this.

First the employers attempted a puny legal challenge, which was robustly rebuffed. Then they claimed that there had been some confusion as to what we were asking for. So we met them again and spelt it out. Over the course of two meetings, every demand was not just discussed fully and openly, every demand was conceded by the employers.


The agreement is for a 2.2% pay rise, no cuts to sick pay, agency staff usage to be reduced with permanent staff being offered the hours instead and pay disparities to be addressed, by agreement with a target date of 1 May on the basis of no pay cuts.

The union also demanded a goodwill gesture where, in the run up to 1 May, interim payments would be made in two particular areas where pay disparity was a significant problem – and the employer agreed. As one worker pointed out, we should have added the nationalisation of the company under workers control as a further demand!

This is a great win for Unite, showing that standing together with the right strategy and a campaign led by the members can win. The ferry workers were fully backed by their Greenwich Unite branch, which is led by Socialist Party members and has a tradition of successful struggle.