Ferry dispute escalates as engineer collapses on board

Woolwich FerryThe dispute at the Woolwich Ferry has escalated over growing health and safety concerns, as an engineer collapsed from inhaling engine fumes at the weekend, Unite has said.

The union said that on Saturday (28 January) an ambulance was called to the ferry after the engineer, a Unite member, collapsed from inhaling fumes in the engine room of one of the boats – after treatment, he was not detained in hospital.

Unite is currently embroiled in an industrial dispute on behalf of its 36 members, working for Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL).

The union is holding 12 days of strike action into the spring over the failure by the company to abide by agreements, health and safety concerns, and a culture of bullying and sexual harassment.

The first 24-hour strike was on Friday and the next day of strike action is due this Friday.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “What happened at the weekend just underlines what Unite has been saying for some time – that there are serious health and safety concerns relating to the ferry which carries  3,500 vehicles a day as well as foot passengers.

“On Saturday, an ambulance was called to the ferry after a worker collapsed from inhaling fumes in the engine room of one of the boats. Thankfully, he did not have to be detained in hospital, but this is another major wake-up call for the bosses.

“An email was sent to workers by the employer which I saw on Friday, instructing workers to continue working in the engine room, but on a limited basis.

“The employer should instead have made clear that nobody should be in the engine room until the problem was fixed.

“We have stated publicly that, as well as the sexual harassment issue of one of our female members, we have ongoing concerns about health and safety. The escaping fumes from the engine room could have also put passengers at risk.”

The union has also raised concerns that fire-fighting equipment is insufficient and that workers have discovered the toxic E.coli bacteria in one of the boat’s water tanks.

The strike action consisting of a series of 24-hour stoppages will continue at 00:01 hours on: 3 February; 10 February; 17 February; 24 February; 3 March; 10 March; 17 March; 24 March; 31 March; 7 April; and 14 April.

The free service opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London, although a ferry has been in place at the site since the 14th century.

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