Striking car park workers could disrupt the upcoming Tall Ships Festival - as critics accuse the council of lavishing money on the event instead of its residents.

The Unite union plans to take 17 car parking staff on strike for 48 hours this Friday (September 5) from 12am and claim it could cause havoc with temporary parking restrictions in place for the five-day Tall Ships event - dubbed "a vanity project".

Unite's Greenwich rep Onay Kasab said his branch was joining with others to call for a £1 per hour increase in pay for the council workforce.

He said: "I will be frank - rather than a Tall Ships Festival - which is a vanity project, the majority of my members just want fair pay. Maybe then, our members could actually afford a ticket for a ride on one of these vessels - rather than being taken for a ride as far as pay is concerned."

Mr Kasab went on: "The council has already contacted us to ask that we exempt certain workers, as without that exemption, some of the events linked to the festival will have to be called off. We have refused that exemption request.
"The strike would have a significant impact on any day - but the council has admitted to the union that it will have a very significant impact on the ability of the council to run the festival. Parking havoc is on the cards."

And he added: "The union has pointed out that, while the council expecting to make over £60m of cuts, the cheapest adult single ticket for a trip on the ships costs £49.50. Councillors need to rethink their priorities."

Support for the strikers came from Greenwich Conservative leader Councillor Spencer Drury. He said: "I can completely understand why poorly paid council workers and residents on low incomes are furious about Labour's choice to spend millions on the Tall Ships Regatta.  

"I hope that the regatta will be a success but at this time we should be focusing the council’s spending on improving council homes, repairing roads or maintaining vital services." 

Last year, News Shopper revealed that estimated costs for the festival had nearly trebled from £175,000 to £500,000, while trips by council top brass to previous Tall Ships venues saw £10,000 splashed on a visit to France, with costs covered by the local authority's tourism company, and a £5,500 trip to Riga.

A £2.1m project forward funded by the council to extend Woolwich pier and build a new one from Cutty Sark Gardens was also rushed through.

A spokesman for Greenwich Council said: “The Tall Ships Festival is expected to attract up to a million visitors over the five days, helping to boost the Royal Borough both nationally and internationally as a visitor destination. With tourism generating more than £1 billion a year in revenue for our local economy, events of this nature are a vital part of our strategy to regenerate the borough and help us to protect and create jobs – something we would expect trade unions to support.

“The cultural events throughout the festival are free of charge, and residents and visitors can enjoy free access to selected ships. 

“The proposed strike does not relate to local issues, but to a pay claim that is being dealt with at the national level through negotiations with the Employers Organisation which represents local councils across England.”