Workers on Northern Rail have voted to go on strike in a row over jobs and safety.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union backed walkouts by 80% and other forms of industrial action by 90%.
The union said it is in dispute over a series of issues, including the removal of permanent posts and the creation of zero-hour jobs via a contract with a security company, cuts to booking offices and attacks on the role and responsibility of train guards.
The union said Northern Rail, which runs services which links Teesside with stations across the north of England, had also given no commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies beyond the end of its current franchise in February 2016.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“RMT has made every effort to win assurances from Northern Rail over jobs, services and safety. However, the company continues to ride roughshod over our efforts.
“We therefore had no option but to ballot all staff for action to force the company to take these issues seriously and the members have now voted decisively for action. That mandate will now be considered by the union.”
> Another example of what happens when NHS services are privatised…
Staff in homes for people with learning and physical disabilities in Northumberland could take strike action over what they describe as a “savage cut” to their terms and conditions.
The majority of 36 workers in five homes run by Lifeways are being balloted amid claims their pay is to be slashed by £2.30 an hour to £7.65 – below the National Living Wage.
They also say the company is cutting paid sickness leave to five days per year, reducing its contribution to workers’ pensions from 14% to 4% and removing death in service benefits.
The workers are based at three homes in Bedlington and two in Choppington and are represented by the union Unison.
It claims staff who transferred to Lifeways from the NHS are seeing their maternity provision replaced by the statutory minimum and that holiday entitlement has been reduced by seven days.
Unison spokesman Trevor Johnston said:
“They are faced with losing between a third and half of their income and a savage cut to their other terms and conditions of employment.
“The staff are very concerned about their financial security. They are very committed to caring for the residents and appreciate that disruption is unsettling for them. However, they feel that they are faced with no alternative.
“Unison has offered to undertake meaningful negotiations with the employer, especially as Lifeways made a profit last year of £14m.
“Other not-for-profit organisations faced with similar cuts have offered their staff buy out arrangements while continuing to pay the Living Wage.”
The company has blamed a 30% cut in the money it is given to run the homes by Northumberland County Council.
A Lifeways spokesperson said:
“We recognise the impact that any changes to terms and conditions will have on our staff and we are holding talks with Unison in order to avoid industrial action.
“Our service users remain our number one priority and we will maintain a high level of care at all times.
“However, like all other providers of adult social care, we are having to reduce our costs as a result of local authority budget cuts.
“Despite a 30% reduction in fees, we are required to deliver the same level of service as currently.
“The fee decrease is being absorbed in part through a reduction in our operating costs, mostly through the proposed changes in employment terms and conditions, but also in part by Lifeways directly.”
The services now run by Lifeways were operated by the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust as residential care homes until 2012.
A Northumberland County Council spokesperson:
“The trust made a decision a number of years ago that they no longer felt it appropriate for them to continue providing this kind of social care service, and consulted their staff in relation to this.
“The county council, which was the funder of the services, therefore advertised in 2012 for a new provider to take over the services and work towards supporting the service users in a less institutional way, changing the services from residential homes to a ‘supported living’ scheme, in which service users would become tenants with enhanced rights and greater independence.
“The contract offered in the original tender is the contract that was agreed would operate from April 1.”
Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Barbour staff have accepted a new deal from their bosses after being re-balloted on the offer of a shorter working week.
Workers at the clothing firm’s Gateshead-based warehouse went on strike earlier this month over the introduction of a two-shift system.
The industrial action came to an end last week after the company agreed to offer increases in pay and day shift working for those with family and caring responsibilities.
However members of the Unite union were re-balloted on Monday over an offer of a shorter working week.
Unite said its members were concerned about the deal and had proposed staff work for 37.5 hours a week, instead of 39 hours, and bank around 78 hours which would be worked off during the firm’s busiest periods of the year.
However bosses at Barbour said the additional hours offer was never on the table, and union members have now agreed to a 37.5 hour contract, with no additional working during peak times.
Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown said:
“There was another ballot on a revised offer from the company and members have agreed to a 37.5 hour contract.
“There will be no banked hours which would have been worked during the firm’s busiest period.
“With a heavy heart, our members have decided to work fewer hours and thus have a cut in wages. The members are going to be losing 78 hours worth of payments through the year.”
Brenda Readman-Bell, IT and finance director at the firm, said: “We are pleased the latest ballot of the workforce by the union on a shorter working week has been accepted.
“When this condition was put on the table last week by the union we agreed to incorporate it into the final deal for an acceptance of a two shift system in the warehouse from April 2015.”
Striking Barbour workers at the famous jacket maker in Gateshead will be going back to work after accepting a significantly improved offer following talks at Acas, their union Unite announced today (Tuesday 13 January).
A majority of the workers, who had been on strike following forced changes to their contracts, accepted a deal which sees substantial increases in pay and day shift working for those with family and caring responsibilities.
J Barbour and Son Ltd had given warehouse workers a ‘sign or be sacked’ ultimatum over changes that included the removal of the unsocial hours payment and the introduction of a requirement to work until 11 o’clock at night.
But after four days of strike action in December and one week into a four week stoppage, management agreed to talks at Acas.
Commenting, Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown said:
“A majority of members have accepted this improved offer which sees…
Striking workers at a top clothing brand will today vote on whether to continue their walk-out after crunch talks.
Staff at Barbour are in the second week of industrial action in a dispute over contractual changes which would require employees to work more late nights and early mornings as part of a new two shift system.
But yesterday, Acas talks between union chiefs and the firm’s bosses were described as “constructive” and union members will be balloted on a new offer today.
A spokeswoman for Barbour said:
“Following constructive talks at Acas today, Barbour, which has been subject to industrial action by a number of its warehouse staff, has said progress has been made. Union members will be balloted on the offer.
“The need to implement a two shift system in the warehouses reflects the continued growth and expansion of the business.”
The company, which has its headquarters in Barbour House, South Shields, told employees about the shift changes in May last year, affecting three warehouses which employ 180 people.
The industrial action involves two warehouses, and of the 160 people employed in those, 65 are union members.
Workers first walked out for six days in December, before striking again from last Monday and holding a rally outside Barbour House.
Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown attended yesterday’s meeting, having called for staff not to be forced unfairly into working unsociable hours.
“We will hold a union meeting in the morning to discuss the company’s offer with members.
“Progress was made and this is positive, given that it was a difficult decision for our members to stand out in picket lines in the coldest temperatures of the winter.”
On Friday, local MPs Stephen Hepburn and Emma Lewell-Buck were invited to the Barbour headquarters to be briefed on the dispute and to help find a resolution.
With a general election looming ever larger on the political horizon, the main parties are now unveiling the policies they think will secure them victory.
The economy, immigration and benefits are among the battlegrounds which they will be fighting over in the next four months.
Another is the heavily unionised public sector which has undergone swingeing cuts since the Coalition Government came to office in May 2010 and historically has been the favoured whipping boy of the Tory party.
And so when David Cameron’s party revealed plans to make it harder to call strikes in certain “core” public services if it wins the general election, it came as no surprise.
A policy along those lines, after all, was floated last year by Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster general Francis Maude.
There was also no surprise in its backing by the employers organisations the CBI and the British Chamber of Commerce, or in its universal condemnation by members of the TUC.
Yet, while certain sections of the media need no invitation to attack the public sector, and its day of action last year caused discomfort and annoyance amongst the public – not least the sight of rubbish piling high in places like Newcastle – it is still a risky strategy.
For a start, it opens the Government up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.
After all, the present Coalition Government is made up of the Lib Dems and Tories who between them received 38% of the total number of the UK’s eligible voters – 18m out of 45.5m – and below the 40% threshold it wants to demand of the public sector it is targeting. The Tory share of this was 23%.
In her heyday , Margaret Thatcher won around 30% of the total available vote and, during the present parliament, the Tories voted down a Lib Dem motion to introduced an alternative voting scheme which arguably would have made parliament more representative of the people’s views.
Meanwhile, GMB general secretary Paul Kenny also got his calculator out to further hammer home the point. He said:
“Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010.
“Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support. They had no hesitation in forming a government in 2010 without securing 40% support from the electorate.”
Another point is that, particularly in the North East, the public sector which employs many in the region, is not as hated as the Tories might think. So such a policy strategy could be a vote loser here.
Gill Hale, regional secretary of Unison in the North East, said:
“They are the anti-public sector party – you only have to see what they are doing to the NHS and what they have already done to local government.
“Industrial action is taken as a last resort, and when we’ve had to take it we’ve had very good public support. I don’t think it will be a vote winner.”
Meanwhile comments by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, in which he denounced the plans as “brutal” and “ill-conceived”, echo those of Ms Hale.
He said the Conservative proposals were “entirely ideologically-led and a brutal attempt to strangle the basic rights of working people in this country”.
Mr Cable added that a 40% threshold would be “odd”, when MPs do not have to overcome such a high hurdle to be elected.
Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.
Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC says the Conservatives’ proposals would have “profound implications” for civil liberties.
They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing.
The package of measures will feature in the party’s manifesto for May’s general election.
In explaining the plan, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said a planned London bus strike set to take place on Tuesday had only been voted for by 16% of people entitled to take part in the ballot, and called the walk-out “ridiculous”.
“I think before a strike is allowed to go ahead it must havemuch more support from the union members and cannot be called by politicised union leaders,” he said.
But Ms O’Grady said that participation in strike ballots and other types of vote should be improved by introducing online voting, in “safe and secure balloting”.
At the moment, strikes can only be called based on the results of a postal ballot – which “don’t do the job”, Ms O’Grady added.
She said the government “continues to oppose this proposition”, although Mr McLoughlin replied he would be willing to talk “in more detail” about such proposals.
However, his partner in the Coalition Government, Mr Cable, goes further.
He said: “If there is to be trade union reform, it should be to allow electronic voting in ballots which would improve the turnout and legitimacy of polls.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Conservative Party’s proposed changes would have a “chilling” effect, and added the way to “resolve disputes was through negotiations – not to intimidate and silence by legislation”.
Ministers have repeatedly clashed with trade unions over pay – with a 1% cap on increases in the public sector – as well as changes to pensions and retirement ages.
It was during the day of action last summer when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took part in a day of strike action across the UK, that Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “time to legislate”.
But Ms Hale added:
“We already have some of the most draconian laws in Europe regarding industrial action. There are so many obstacles we have to get over.”
However, Mr McLoughlin said:
“It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too.”
He said the changes, which would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament, would “increase the legitimacy” of strike action held by unions.
“It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services.”
CBI deputy director general Katja Hall commented:
“Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.”
However, the TUC has previously said imposing a minimum turnout would leave unions with “about as much power as Oliver Twist”.
Labour criticised those plans as “desperate stuff”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike and would shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants.
He said: “The UK already has tough laws on strikes – there is no need to make them stricter still.”
But John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “In the eyes of businesses large and small, these proposals have merit, as they would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”
Striking workers are to call on Barbour’s chair Dame Margaret Barbour to help resolve a dispute over changes to employees contracts.
A letter is to be handed in to the firm’s headquarters in Simonside, South Shields, tomorrow, following a march by those taking industrial action.
A rally will also be held outside Barbour House.
The march, which will set off from the Tesco car park at 9.30am, comes as Barbour management have agreed to Acas talks on Monday, according to union Unite.
They are calling on Dame Barbour to ensure the company’s management enter the talks in a positive and constructive manner.
Speakers at the rally will include Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown said:
“Barbour’s actions run contrary to the family values the company says it holds dear. We hope that Dame Barbour listens to the workers’ concerns and ensures that the company’s management enters Monday’s talks in a constructive manner.
“Workers have shown through their solid support for the strike that they are prepared to stand firm to get a just settlement.
“Management should be under no illusion of the workforce’s resolve and we urge Dame Margaret Barbour to intervene and help resolve a dispute which is damaging the Barbour brand.”
January’s four week stoppage by the Gateshead based workers started on Monday 5 January and follows six days of strike action in December in a row over contracts.
Members of Unite are unhappy at changes in their contracts, which, they say, will see the removal of unsocial hours payments and the requirement to work until 11pm.
However, the company, says the new proposed shift pattern would be from 7am to 3pm, and 2.30pm to 10.30pm, and that the deal offers workers substantial pay rises.
Factory workers have kicked off four weeks of strike action in a row over contracts proposed by a South Tyneside based clothing firm.
Warehouse staff at the clothing firm J Barbour and Sons had hoped the start of the new year would bring fresh negotiations to avoid industrial action.
However, according to Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown no communication has been forthcoming and workers took their place on the picket line, yesterday.
The row is being taken by members of the Unite union who are unhappy at changes to their contracts which, they say, will see the removal of unsocial hours payments, and the requirement to work until 11pm.
The company says the new proposed shift pattern would be 7am to 3pm and 2.30pm to 10.30pm, and no one was available to comment on the industrial action.
The dispute centres on the firm’s warehouses in Wardley, Gateshead, and involves 134 of its 600 North East workers.