Woolwich ferry workers are to be balloted for strikes over issues including pay, safety and the alleged victimisation of a union rep.

Members of Unite working on the Woolwich Ferry in London will vote in the coming weeks on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action.

The union said the ferry has been dogged by poor employment relations in recent years which led Transport for London to take over its operation from private contractors.

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The dispute involves victimisation of a union rep, pay and health and safety training to new employees, said Unite.

The staff are also angry at the perceived failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme, the use of agency staff and the alleged failure to provide adequate health and safety training to new employees.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “Unfortunately, we are experiencing a Groundhog Day scenario at the Woolwich Ferry.

“When the ferry was operated by Briggs Marine Contractors our members were on the receiving end of some appalling employment practices over a number of years and we welcomed the takeover by Transport for London (TfL).

“However, we are very disappointed that we are once again in the position of holding a ballot for strike action – we expected better of the TfL management.

“No union can stand by while its representative is victimised.

"It is a fundamental principle that our members understand – when workers come forward to stand as union representatives, bravely putting their heads above the parapet, they will have the full support of the union, using every means at our disposal, including industrial action.

“Clearly TfL thinks that it can mirror a Tory government which is passing draconian legislation in the hope of silencing criticism and dissent.

“However, we are keen to engage constructively with TfL management during the ballot process so we can resolve these outstanding issues and ensure that the Woolwich Ferry can be operated in a fashion that truly benefits the users and the workforce.”

A Transport for London spokesman said: “We are working with Unite to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

Before the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020 about 20,000 vehicles a week were using the free service across the Thames which opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west of London.

Pre-Covid-19, an estimated 2.6 million passengers also used the ferry annually.

There has been a ferry in place at the site since the 14th century.