Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 23 January, 2019 - 11:17 Author: Darren Bedford, Kelly Rogers and Ollie Moore

Care workers employed by charity Alternative Futures Group are balloting for strikes to resist a pay cut announced by their employer in November.

The workers, who are members of Unison, face a cut of up to £40 following AFG bosses’ announcement that they will no longer pay an additional allowance for workers who sleep overnight at service users’ homes as part of their shift.

AFG, whose work primarily comes from contracts tendered by local authorities, says that a July 2018
court ruling, which overturned previous rulings from 2017 and 2016, stipulates that they no longer have to
top up the pay of sleep-­in workers.

Unison’s North West Regional Organiser Tim Ellis said: “Councils are paying AFG enough for them to
pay their staff decently for sleep­ins. AFG should pass that public money on to where it’s supposed to go –
to the hardworking frontline support workers who cannot afford cuts to their incomes.

“AFG’s current plans are jeopardising service provision, impoverishing staff, and they ignore local
councils’ wishes. AFG faces the real prospect of strike action if they continue on their reckless course.”
Unison’s ballot closes on 1 February.

"Cyber-picket" tribunal

In early January I had my employment tribunal against Picturehouse cinemas. I was sacked, along with three of my fellow trade union reps, over 18 months ago from the Ritzy cinema, in Brixton, part of the Picturehouse chain.

That was in the midst of a high ­profile strike, which I took part in leading, by workers in the Picturehouse
chain.

I was dismissed for my involvement in “cyber­picketing”, an online protest where supporters of the strike
would block­book cinema tickets on the websites of cinemas where workers were on strike. While the tickets
were in their baskets, they couldn’t be sold either online or in person.

It was a tactic employed to bolster the impact of our strikes, when Picturehouse were bringing in strikebreakers
and BECTU, our union, were refusing to allow us to hold picket lines outside all of the sites where
we were on strike.

Cinemas would remain open, customers would innocently cross our picket lines, and Picturehouse could
operate business ­as ­usual. We couldn’t allow that!

After a very successful trial­run of “cyber­picketing” at Hackney Picturehouse, union members from all
five striking cinemas agreed the tactic in an all­members meeting. This decision, however, was leaked to
management, and, within a fortnight of the meeting, every single trade union rep at the Ritzy had been
suspended. In the end, I was dismissed for “inciting people to cyber­attack the company”, failing to report
“cyber­picketing” to my employer, and failing to name fellow union members in my disciplinary hearing.

The crux of my employment tribunal was to establish whether these things — informing my colleagues of
plans for supporters to engage in cyber­picketing, and keeping private information about our strategy and
our union secret from the employer, are protected trade union activities.

Our argument (put simply and briefly) was that trade unionists should (and do) have the right to discuss
protest activity in their meetings and keep it secret from their employer. Any obligation to keep employers
informed of strategies during disputes, or to name activists, contradicts the most basic ABCs of trade
unionism and our ability to strike.

There is every chance that I will lose. The anti­union legislation in this country is extensive, and there is
very little to protect workers daring to do more than meekly stand outside their workplaces on strike days.

The other three Ritzy reps have already had the result of their employment tribunal. Natalie Parsons and
Marc Cowan won their claims of unfair dismissal. The third — Tom McKain — had not yet reached the two
years of service needed to make the claim. All three, however, lost their claim for victimisation.

The employment tribunal has ordered Picturehouse to reinstate Natalie and Marc, but Picturehouse are choosing to appeal, absolutely determined to keep the old strike leaders out of Picturehouse.

Ford workers face jobs massacre

Bosses at the Ford plant in Bridgend, Wales, plan to cut almost 70% of the factory’s workforce over the next two years.

Ford plans to manage the first wave of cuts via 370 voluntary redundancies over 2019, with a further 620
jobs due to go in 2020. There are currently 1,490 workers employed at the plant.

The Unite union, which organises workers at the plant, says it will fight “any compulsory redundancies”,
a stance which leaves the door worryingly open for management to make the cuts on the basis of voluntary
redundancies.

Although there is some hope that winning a contract to produce a new 4x4 for the automotive wing of
chemicals and energy giant Ineos might save around 500 jobs, only public ownership can secure the long-term
future of the plant.

Instead of limiting itself to only opposing “compulsory redundancies”, Unite should take a firm position
against any and all job losses, and mount a political campaign for the plant to be nationalised.

They should explore a workers’ plan to repurpose the factory’s productive capacity away
from ecologically unsustainable, market-driven production and towards production for social
need.

Outsouced civil service workers strike

Outsourced workers at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) struck together on 22 January to demand a living wage. MoJ workers were also due to strike on 23 January. The strike was coordinated between the United Voices of the World union (UVW), which organises outsourced staff at MoJ, and the
Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which organises outsourced staff at BEIS, as well as directly-employed civil servants in both departments.

Rail workers forced to re-ballot in DOO fight

Rail union RMT’s dispute against the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO) on South Western Railway is continuing, meaning that anti-union legislation will force workers to re-ballot for a fourth time.

Laws introduced as part of the Tories’ 2016 Trade Union Act mean unions must re-ballot every six months, even if the same dispute has continued. The latest ballot closes on 7 February. A union statement said: “RMT has been forced
under the latest wave of Tory anti-union laws to re-ballot for a fourth time in the rail safety dispute on South Western Railway under the six month rule.

“I am confident that once again our members will return an overwhelming mandate to carry on the fight to put public safety before private profit.”

Guards on Northern are continuing their weekly strikes on Saturdays, striking most recently on 19 January, where large pickets were mounted in Leeds to resist a threat from the far right.

Further strikes are planned on 26 January and 2, 9, and 16 February.

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