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GMB head for courts in Servisair John Lennon Airport baggage handler dispute

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

From Liverpool Daily Post.

Liverpool Daily Post

GMB UNION bosses today said they would be heading for the courts in the bitter Servisair redundancy strike at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

It comes as baggage handling firm Servisair presses ahead with its intention to axe between 28-35 jobs in Speke.

The GMB union has to reluctantly end their industrial action today as they reach the end of the legally-enforced 12-week period.

The trade union said Runcorn-based Servisair had ignored attempts to find a resolution to the two-month dispute. The GMB will now head to the courts to obtain a “protective award” as the row deepens.

If a tribunal rules in the GMB’s favour, Servisair would have to stump up between 30-90 days pay for each of the 13 employees potentially left at the risk of redundancy.
Click here to find out more!

And, as relations sink to what the GMB describe as “an all-time low”, any future employment dispute would automatically lead to a full 12-week walk-out.

The union has conducted discontinuous action since November, picketing for two hours in a morning and afternoon, four days a week.

Termination letters have been handed out while some staff at Speke are set to begin contracts downgraded from 42 hours to part-time 32-hour contracts.

Some Servisair employees have chosen to take voluntary redundancy following anger over “partial performance”.

That dispute occurred as management stopped any payment to a striker if they walked out for two hours on a shift.

Servisair argued that the cost of hiring cover workers, financing their meals and accommodation, made allowing picketing employees back on shift not viable. Unlawful deduction grievances have been registered by the GMB, but both parties insist their legal position on this issue remains strong.

Regional organiser Eddie Parker told the ECHO: “As management won’t recognise the need for proper consultation, we will remain out for the full 12 weeks in future disputes.

“We have asked to be provided with financial information from Servisair to back up the redundancies which has been ignored. If shared, that would remain confidential.

“The fact remains, Servisair made a big profit last year and Liverpool is one of the more efficient sites.

“It has been pleasing that members have stood shoulder to shoulder with those made redundant. It shows the principles of the trade union movement are alive and kicking in Liverpool.

“It’s very rare when people will take a financial hit, when they don’t have to, to support their colleagues.”

Asked to explain their current stance, Servisair said they did not wish to comment.

Negotiations between management and GMB have proved difficult with little sign of headway on either side despite the intervention from arbitrators ACAS.

Management have stressed the jobs cuts would result in a more multi-skilled workforce, but the union have accused the company of ‘blatant profit-making.’

GMB said relations between Servisair management and their members was now ‘dire’ with an absence of any goodwill.

Mr Parker added: “Our members will be professional and do their job, but in all jobs people do things that’s not expected of them, that’s what a good working relationship is about.

“But that’s now gone.”

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Staring at another noble defeat? Or an opportunity for a real workers’ victory?

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Apologies for the nature of this post but I feel the need to think out loud.

I read on the Liverpool Echo website today that the GMB shall be calling off their members’ strike action at the end of this month, as after this 12 week period any people taking part in strike action can legally be sacked by Servisair for taking part in ‘unofficial action’. At first this made me feel how the laws are unfairly weighted in favour of the bosses and against the workers. Then, I thought about all the successful instances of workers in the UK taking unofficial action that I had read about. Such as the hundreds of electricians who took unofficial action on the 7th of December. They nationally coordinated this day of action in response to their union calling off an official strike that had 81% of members voting for action, after Balfour Beatty claimed 25 office workers who were Unite members were not balloted.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the pictures plastered in the Servisair buildings at JLA

I also thought about the politics of Left-Communists and the ICC’s pamphlet ‘Unions Against the Working Class’ and if it would be right to state that this shows the bankruptcy of the union framework.
I thought that if I was heavily under the influence of the ICC I might say something like ‘Against GMB bureaucrats! Fight union sabotage!’. Although it is true that a problem with unions is that the legal hoops they have to jump through serves to hamstring their actions and demoralise workers, if I turned up to a picket line with a leaflet with this headline the workers would not be very happy! Workers on strike, for all their misgivings of it, do identify with their union and such an approach would probably demoralise them (if I was taken seriously at all). However, only the most dysfunctional creep takes an interest in politics to make friends – the real reason I feel I could not take this approach is that I know nothing of the real situation on the ground. Not only do I not work there but the dispute has been overshadowed by both the national electricians and public sector pensions disputes, meaning that there has been next to no coverage in the left wing press. This means the key factor is unknown, is there a real will amongst the workers to fight and win?
It could be possible for the workers to defeat the bosses in January if they were able to set up mass pickets, preventing scabs from getting to work (watch this video of a mass picket of London fire fighters from November 2010, part of an official strike). Successful mass pickets would cost Servisair much money and important prestige and could see them back down.

Although I can only speculate from afar, evidence would suggest that there is a will to win. The workers themselves know that they can beat the bosses, management first tried to push through redundancies in the summer of 2009, they were met with a two week all out strike and backed down after fire service workers at the airport prepared to ballot for strike action in their defence. Furthermore, despite taking place in the run up to the Christmas period, ballot results in the highly unionised workplace were strong, with 85% voting to strike and 95% voting for action short of a strike. Attempts to ‘lock out’ strikers and confiscate security passes will have only served to heighten tensions.

I mentioned in a previous post that this is part of a (inter?)national move by all ground handling firms to casualise the industry. Baggage handlers are traditionally seen as militant workers and due to their strategic position have received relatively high wages for what is classed as unskilled work. The capitalist class is using the mass unemployment created by the economic crisis to force out full time workers and replace them with a larger, casualised, agency work force, working less hours and with no ‘right’ to strike. A defeat for the Liverpool baggage handlers would not only be a defeat for all those in the industry, but for the working class as a whole.

If the GMB regional organiser is to be believed when he reports “Our members have made a statement and they are more solid now than before. I attended eight picket lines and the strength was evident.” then why don’t they go for it? They have nothing to lose but their chains!

Is the strike action at Liverpool Airport coming to an end?

December 18, 2011 Leave a comment

There was no strike action on Friday at John Lennon Airport as the GMB called off strike action for the day in response to Servisair’s decision to request that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service become involved in negotiations. This is in the wake of Servisair’s attempt to seize striker’s ID passes and successfully ‘locking out’ for a day all those involved in strike action.

Up to 101 baggage handlers have been taking strike action since the 23rd of November in response to 33 compulsory redundancies (negotiated down from 75). The baggage handlers are also being asked to carry out extra duties as part of a move towards a casualised agency work force.

At Manchester Airport all baggage handlers taken on since the summer have been trained and required to work in the bag hall and on the ramp. These new workers are also employed on inferior terms and conditions to existing staff, whilst ex-Servisair workers from Manchester are being used to break the strike in Liverpool.

Below are two articles taken from the Liverpool Echo .

Picket line, Nov 23 (Liverpool Echo)

‘Servisair baggage handler strike at Liverpool John Lennon airport turns nasty’ (Dec 12)

A DISPUTE between Servisair airport baggage handlers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport and their bosses has turned bitter over the threat of deducted wages for strikers.

Servisair employees are currently taking discontinuous strike action against the likelihood of 37 compulsory redundancies.

Workers in Speke have taken industrial action for around a fortnight now, walking out for two hours in a morning and afternoon, for four days a week.

Now the Runcorn-based firm have told picketers they are not allowed to return to their posts on any day they choose to strike.

And Servisair warned employees they will not be paid for that day’s shift if they take industrial action. As relations between both sides remain at deadlock, the GMB union said they were incensed by an apparent move to confiscate ID passes from strikers.

Servisair has reportedly attempted to persuade Peel Holdings, the airport’s owners, to seize the identification.

Liverpool airport bosses, not having been given any notice of formal termination or suspension of anyone’s employment, refused the request.

GMB is considering legal action against Servisair and wrote a strongly-worded letter, via their solicitor, to the baggage handling firm.

Up to 101 staff are walking out as Servisair draft in replacements from other airports to deal with baggage from airlines including Ryanair, Easyjet, KLM, FlyBe and Hungarian-based WizzAir.

Simpsons Solicitors also described the removal of airside passes threat as “sinister”, as the dispute showed no sign of being resolved.

The dispute centres on a demand from Servisair instructing 37 compulsory redundancies while making existing staff carry out more duties.

The union argue they are already understaffed and have promised to undertake the extra work but only with the current workforce numbers. Despite repeated calls to outline the position, Servisair declined to comment to the ECHO, although a spokesman added: “We are disappointed that the strike is ongoing. We are looking to resolve this, but neither are yet in agreement.”

Eddie Parker, from GMB, said: “Servisair continues to bring in outside labour and put them up in premium hotels, paying them breakfast, lunch and dinner. We thoroughly reject the company not allowing our members back to work and refusing to pay them for hours worked on discontinuous action days.”

Liverpool Airport, who are remaining neutral in the dispute, said the events had caused little disruption and passengers had not been subjected to delays.

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‘ACAS brought in to resolve Servisair baggage handler strike at Liverpool John Lennon Airport’ (Dec 14)

MEDIATORS are intervening in a strike at Liverpool John Lennon Airport over the threat of compulsory redundancies.

Baggage handlers in Speke have conducted a four week discontinuous walkout for the last month.

It involves a two hour morning and afternoon strike, for four days each week, by Servisair employees angry with a proposed 33 jobs being axed.

Now, after a month of little agreement between the Runcorn-based firm and union GMB, the first glimmer of light has emerged.

Servisair has contacted the governmental Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to ask them to help negotiations. Talks will take place tomorrow to try and find a resolution.

That step was today welcomed by GMB who said, in response, they were cancelling their four-hour strike today and two-hour walk out on Friday morning.

Regional organiser Eddie Parker said: “ACAS has contacted us to say Servisair have been in touch and want a meeting.

“I’m in the process of writing a letter to the company, and as a goodwill gesture, we will not take industrial action today and Friday morning. We are making every effort to find a resolution. This is good news as recently there has been no movement whatsoever.”

Tension has remained high at Liverpool airport as Servisair tried to suspend the ID passes of striking workers.

That was rejected by airport bosses Peel Holdings, but resentment remains over the handling agent’s decision to ban employees from returning to work on discontinuous days of action, and to withhold pay.

The dispute has seen up to 100 staff walking out, leaving emergency contingency workers to cope with baggage from flights of airlines including Ryanair, KLM, and FlyBe.

Servisair is pushing for compulsory job cuts while asking existing staff to become more multi-skilled to carry out extra duties. But GMB say that increased workload is impossible with reduced manpower.

The firm refused to comment.

An Acas spokesman said: “We are in touch with the parties with a view to arranging talks.”

Liverpool John Lennon Airport Strike.

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment