Summer strikes at Isle of Wight ferries and Heathrow – RMT’s Mick Lynch slams poor regulation on 34th anniversary of Piper Alpha

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Marchers on the June 18th TUC march demanding action to save jobs on P&O and other ferries

ALL of the Isle of Wight’s Southampton-to-Cowes ferries will shut down during summer holidays as 120 workers take strike action against Red Funnel and its billionaire owners to fight poverty pay, Unite announced on Wednesday.

The majority of the 120 Red Funnel staff working on the Isle of Wight route are on the minimum wage.
The union announced on Wednesday that its members voted by an overwhelming 88% majority to strike in a ballot which had an 84.2% turnout.
The workers have rejected a pay offer of 4.5%, rising to 6.5 per cent for the lowest paid staff, far below the real cost of living and inflation, which is currently standing at 11.7% and rising.
Unite says the customer service staff, shunters and ratings are increasingly struggling to pay increased rents.
Some are forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families.
Red Funnel is owned by the £11.5 billion West Midlands Pension Fund and the £3.5 billion Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Red Funnel is another employer that can afford to pay a decent wage but is refusing to do so. This is unacceptable.
‘This mandate for strike action is no surprise to us – it should act as a wake-up call to this employer because these workers are done waiting and are ready to fight for a pay rise.
‘They will receive Unite’s total and utter support in that fight.’
The dates of the strike action, which will shut down all Southampton-to-Cowes ferry services, will be announced in the coming days.
The Red Jet passenger ferry makes a minimum of 21 crossings between Southampton and west Cowes on Monday to Saturday and 15 on Sunday, with the car ferry making at least 19 crossings daily between Southampton and east Cowes.
Meanwhile, members of Unite employed by Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) Ltd at Heathrow airport have also announced strikes, which will take place later this month, in another dispute over pay.
The workers are angry at the company’s refusal to table a decent pay offer having gone without a pay increase for three years, as a result of which their incomes have fall by 15.5%.
Unite’s members at AFS recorded a massive 93% yes vote to strike on a 92% turnout.
Unite leader Graham said: ‘AFS needs to offer its workers a decent pay rise.
‘Oil and gas companies are making massive profits so AFS has the wherewithal to make a proper offer.
‘AFS workers have sustained wage cuts for three years so it’s time AFS rewarded their sacrifices.
‘Our members at AFS will receive Unite’s complete support until this dispute is resolved and they receive a decent pay increase.’
The workers will stage an initial 72-hour walkout beginning at 5am on Thursday 21 July and ending at 4.59am on Sunday 24 July.
The strike action will cause considerable disruption and delays at Heathrow.
AFS provides fuelling services to over 70 airlines at the airport including Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, United, SAS, Air France, Emirates, Delta, JAL, KLM and Singapore Airlines.
The GMB has also announced a strike by all of its members employed by HATS within the London Borough of Southwark, who are to take the action on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 July.
The workers are employed as bus drivers and attendants and are responsible for getting dozens of pupils with special educational needs to school.
HATS have not offered their employees a pay rise in eight years, despite them working throughout the pandemic.
The workers are asking for a 20% pay rise, which would just about cover the decrease in the value of their earnings, when taking into account the period since their last pay uplift and current rates of inflation.
Clive Smith, GMB regional organiser said: ‘This group of workers provide an essential frontline service and deserve to be fairly paid for what they do. It’s time for HATS group to do that.
‘Attending school is vital for the education and well-being of the pupils involved and the decision to strike is a last resort option.’

  • On Wednesday 6th July the RMT made a statement on the 34th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, which killed 167 offshore oil and gas workers and two seafarers on 6/7th July 1988.

This disaster triggered the Cullen Inquiry, which reported at the end of 1990.
Prior to the launch of the Cullen Report, the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives & Safety Committees) Regulations 1989 (SI971) were introduced.
In September 1997, Step Change in Safety was launched by the UK offshore industry.
Two years later, trade unions reported Shell for failure to comply with more than 60 of Lord Cullen’s 106 Piper Alpha recommendations.
The effectiveness of the 1989 regulations have not been reviewed since 2011.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Piper Alpha remains a symbol of the threat poorly regulated, profit hungry operators can pose to the lives of offshore workers and their families.
‘The loss of those 167 souls resulted in much needed improvements to the laws governing health and safety offshore.
‘One change was the legal requirement to establish safety representatives and safety committees elected by offshore workers.
‘Today as we mark the anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy, RMT call for a review of the effectiveness of the safety regime across the entire offshore and maritime sector.
‘Booming oil and gas prices, the climate and cost of living crises, energy security, growing demands on a finite workforce and the failure to deliver Just Transition policies all demand a robust and active safety representative structure to drive continuous improvement.
‘Workers’ voices must be heard and the legacy of the 167 Piper Alpha victims must be the safety of all those working across the North Sea today.
‘RMT encourage all members, their families and the public to attend the 2022 Piper Alpha Memorial Service, organised by the Piper Memorial Trust, held at the Piper Alpha Memorial Gardens at Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen on Wednesday 6th July 2022, commencing at 1pm.
‘We ask that offshore employers allow all workers to take a moment today to remember the 167 offshore workers and the devastating effect that this disaster had on their families and communities, especially in north east Scotland.
‘The men of Piper are gone but will never be forgotten.’
The RMT maritime union has also highlighted the high levels of suicides at sea and the need for strong trade unions in supporting the mental wellbeing of members.
Suicide tragically remains a huge issue in the maritime industry.
According to a study from the International Maritime Health journal, an estimated 5.9% of deaths at sea are connected to suicide. Yet, when ‘suspicious’ deaths that were possibly suicides were included, the percentage increased to 18.3%.
There has been a dramatic increase during the Covid pandemic in the numbers of seafarers who suffer from severe depression (estimated at 25%) and the almost 6% of deaths attributed to suicide.
The relationship between mental health and unemployment is interlinked and good mental health is a key influence on employability, finding a job and remaining in that job, the union has said.
RMT leader Lynch said: ‘Maritime Safety week is an important time to highlight the personal suffering of our members working at sea.
‘At a time when we are facing a cost-of-living crisis, the impact on our members’ mental health is immense.
‘When it comes to suicide, employers must identify the problem by encouraging reporting, identify behaviours and identify ways to help.
‘RMT is here to assist our members and employers to help with mental wellbeing and maritime workers when they run into difficulties.’