Industrial news in brief

Workers at the St Pancras Station outlet of chain sandwich shop Pret A Manger are facing intimidation and victimisation for organising a trade union in the store.

A group of workers began organising in August 2012, around a series of ongoing grievances including non-payment, late notification of shift changes, bullying by managers, and being rostered fewer hours than their stated contracts.

A petition around these demands was signed by nearly half of all staff working in the store.

Almost straight away, key organisers found themselves victimised. One worker was given a disciplinary hearing for an “unauthorised absence”, even though he had been off sick and phoned the store to inform them. The hearing was deliberately scheduled for after the Olympics so the worker could be kept on during the busy Olympic period. Eventually, the worker was given a final warning and transferred to another store.

The Pret A Manger Staff Union (PAMSU) was formally established on 1 September. Two weeks later, leading organiser Andrej Stopa found himself facing disciplinary charges for events which took place in January 2012. The date of the hearing was moved several times, and finally rearranged at 24-hours’ notice, meaning Andrej was unable to attend. As a result, he was fired.

Other members of the union also faced systematic intimidation, including one member who was given a full-time contract along with a “strong recommendation” that he leave the union, and who was told that his grievances would be better dealt with if he pursued them “informally”.

Andrej says that because of this treatment, many workers are now too frightened to join the union or continue organising. His dismissal appeal hearing is at 1pm on Monday 29 October, at 1 Hudson’s Place, London SW1V 1PZ (near Victoria Station).

Activists are planning a demonstration to support his reinstatement outside the hearing. Email pret.staff.union@gmail.com for more info.

Warehouse workers strike

DHL warehouse workers in Scotland struck for the second time on Monday 22 October, after a first walk out Friday 19th.

The strikes are part of a dispute over pay. Workers have rejected management’s latest pay offer, which is for a 2% increase over the next two years. The firm’s site in North Lanarkshire has already seen 100 redundancies in recent years, and workers faced a pay freeze between 2008 and 2011.

Unite members working as delivery drivers for Tesco in Doncaster also rejected a deal from management. They are in dispute over the outsourcing of their contract to haulage firm Eddie Stobart, as their new employer is threatening to make job cuts.

Unite official Harriet Eisner said: “Stobart’s would have to recruit new drivers on worse terms and conditions to run the operation, once they have sacked our members.”

University workload strike

Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) at the University of East London struck on Thursday 18 October over management’s new proposed workload policy.

As things stand, UEL academics, in a survey conducted by the UCU, came out as working the longest hours of any university in Britain. UEL also has one of the worst staff-student ratios of any British university.

One of the workers at the morning picket line told Solidarity: “I wouldn’t be here if we were striking over pay, but this is an issue which directly affects our ability to do our job: provide a decent education for our students.”

Further action on Tuesday 23 October was called off due to ongoing negotiations, but the dispute has not been resolved and further strikes are possible.

British Museum cleaners vote to strike

Cleaning workers at the British Museum have voted to strike against a plan to outsource their work to a private company.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and Unite voted by 90% and 100% respectively to strike after museum bosses announced a plan to outsource the work from 1 April 2013. The unions are now discussing dates for joint action.

Contracting out could lead to cuts in pay and attacks on terms and conditions for the workers. Cleaning contractors are notorious for their precarious working arrangements and high levels of exploitation.

PCS Regional Secretary Keith Johnston said: “With food and energy costs going through the roof, the last thing low-paid workers need is the threat of privatisation hanging over their heads, and this vote for a strike shows the strength of feeling at the museum.

“These staff work hard to keep this prestigious cultural attraction clean, tidy and safe for millions of visitors to enjoy, yet they receive little reward or recognition. We are determined to oppose these plans that would mean shareholders profiting from cutting both the conditions of already poorly-paid cleaners and the quality of services to the public.”

Unite regional officer Carolyn Simpson added: “It is unacceptable that our members are required to bear the cost of management failures at the British Museum. We believe this move to be driven by greed and totally unnecessary.

“We now have a situation where members, who have been working at the museum for over 30 years, are being sold off like cattle.”

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