"Boris Bike" workers strike against bullying bosses

Submitted by AWL on 15 August, 2013 - 1:21

Workers employed by the Serco Barclays cycle hire scheme (“Boris Bikes”) struck on 12 August and 13 August in a dispute about pay, bullying and harassment, shift patterns, and travel allowances.

They are members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers union (RMT). Two RMT reps spoke to Solidarity about the dispute.

We had a meeting with Serco about two weeks ago. We had four main issues that we wanted to talk about. The first one was the 2.3% pay increase we received in April, which actually works out at about 1.3% when you take away some of the strings. That’s not good enough. Everyone’s unhappy about what they got. Some people got a bit more, some got less, some didn’t get anything.

We also spoke about bullying and harassment. There’s been a huge increase in people taking out grievances against management. Management are getting away with it, and that can’t be allowed to continue.

Another issues was shift patterns. Our shift patterns are 7pm to 3.30am, and 11am to 7pm. Before that it was 9am to 6.30pm, which wasn’t too bad. But Serco wanted to change everything. We’ve had 10 shift changes in the last three years, including four in one year. Workers are getting into routines and sleeping patterns and then they’re just being broken. You run the risk of accidents happening if people aren’t sleeping properly. They want to impose these changes without any negotiation, and sometimes have imposed rosters without any notice. Workers have come back from a shift and been given a new roster that they’re expected to start the next day.

The final issue is travel allowance. Workers are being penalised if they’re arrived slightly late because of problems with public transport. We’ve even had cases where workers have found managers filling in late forms for them, which is essentially fraud.

The whole management culture is abysmal. All we are is a number to them.

We’ve been campaigning for union recognition for nearly three years now. Serco doesn’t want to recognise the RMT, and they’ve done a backdoor deal with Community. As far as I know, they have less than 10 actual members. We have over 100. Every day, the union is getting stronger.

This is the first strike there’s been involving this workforce. We planned a strike at Stratford around the Olympics, but that was undermined by Community negotiating a backroom deal to get so-called Olympic bonuses of £500, but that payment had so many strings attached that many people ended up not receiving them. They involved changing rosters, changing hours, and meeting performance-related targets.

People just feel they’ve been pushed too far. The customers aren’t satisfied either, especially since the hire prices increased.

I’m very happy with how the strike has gone. With any strike, you always want it to go better, but we’re 110% in it. The picket line is strong, and we’re going to carry on fighting.

We want Serco to negotiate. We’ll put our demands on the table and we want a deal. But if Serco aren’t prepared to do that, we’ll put on another strike. And we’ll keep doing that until they’re ready to talk.

The strike’s been great. It’s the first time we’ve done this, and it’s great that people have come out and shown their support. I’m sure more people will be out for the next strike.

Management is management everywhere, but here they seem worse. They don’t have the skill set to run this job. They don’t know how to relate to the workforce, understand them, listen to them, talk to them. If management behaves this harshly towards the workforce, there’s going to be a strike.

They’re very stubborn. They don’t seem to want to sit down. We’ve consistently offered talks, including when we were balloting, but they don’t want to resolve anything. We’re prepared to negotiate and compromise, but they have to be prepared to compromise too.

The primary issue for us is the bullying and harassment. If the bullying culture didn’t exist, if managers treated workers better, people would think twice about striking over an issue like pay. But it’s completely out of control — as of two months ago, we had 38 active disciplinary procedures. There was another 25 to 30 that were either on hold, waiting to start, or coming to an end. That’s 70 in one small company. There’s obviously a problem. I think all the managers need to be retrained.

We really hope that this strike will get management around the table.

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