UNITE members at Tyneside Safety Glass on the Team Valley Estate, Gateshead have returned to work today (14 July) after securing a successful outcome to their strike over pay and conditions. Over 100 workers took three weeks of action in two separate spells before management offered an inflation beating pay rise, dropped plans to increase the working week, compromised on shift bonuses and reinstated a sacked worker. Highly satisfied with the outcome, UNITE members are hopeful that their actions will encourage the other 21,000 workers on the Team Valley Estate to join UNITE and get organised.
Formed in 1937, Tyneside Safety Glass manufacture toughened, laminated, bullet resistant and heated glass for the automotive, security and defence sectors, rail, motorsport and architectural industries worldwide. Although many of the workers are loyal, long-serving employees they have been left increasingly frustrated by pay awards that have failed to keep pace with inflation. This has left HGV drivers earning just £7.18 an hour with packers earning even less. Few shop floor workers earn above £10 an hour.
In the company brochure it states; ‘We have built a truly world class knowledgeable skilled workforce who are all trained to the highest manufacturing standards and are totally dedicated to continuous improvement.’ Warm words but it does not put food on the table. As a result many workers have been working weekends in a second job. Yet the highest-paid director awarded himself an extra 14% last year, whilst £750,000 was moved from the company’s account to the owners trust fund. In the year up to April 30 2013 Tyneside Safety Glass grossed £609,899 in profits.
There was therefore real anger amongst UNITE members when the company initially sought to retain the current pay rates. Management then returned with an offer of 3% this year and 2% in the two subsequent years, all self-financing with workers expected to work longer shifts. There was also proposed reductions to some shift bonus schemes.
A ballot overwhelmingly endorsed strike action and after removing their labour for a week in early June, staff then walked out on 30 June for three weeks. It was a very brave move but one that appeared to have the support of many workers in nearby workshops and offices.
Interviewed on Monday 7 July, UNITE rep Neil Davison said: “Four years ago when we took strike action over pay there was quite a bit of abuse towards pickets by people. Not this time. I believe many people are now experiencing what we are being expected to endure, a massive reduction in our living standards. I think they would like to see us win as that might help them to argue for an increase in pay.” Davison has been a UNITE rep for four years and spoke about how invaluable a UNITE education reps course that covered getting organised when on strike was proving.
There was daily picketing at both company sites, located around half a mile apart. No Unite member crossed the picket line.
There was no attempt to prevent agency staff that work for Tyneside Safety Glass from going to work. “We sympathise with agency workers, some of whom have been here for three years plus. They should be made permanently employed,” explained Neil, who works as a screen print supervisor.
Strikers had been happy to accept invitations to speak to other workers about their strike. Funds had been donated including £250 from the Hartlepool construction branch of Unite. UNITE paid a health rate of strike pay and had assembled a contingency fund to support any ongoing action by its long-serving members.
Faced with a determined workforce, management at Tyneside Safety Glass agreed to meet at ACAS and in the subsequent talks offered a pay increase from April this year of 2.8 per cent with further increases in 2015 and 2016 of inflation plus 0.1 per cent up to a maximum of 3 per cent. In addition the proposal to increase the working day by ten minutes was dropped, there was a compromise regarding minor changes in some shift bonuses and a sacked worker was reinstated. When the offer was put to the strikers 86 agreed to accept the company offer and 11 to reject. Workers returned to work 14 after a total of three weeks industrial action.
UNITE workplace rep Mark Robertson, a glasscutter since 1987, said: “Members are very pleased with the outcome as we believe we have won a victory. We feel we have fought a good fight in which the full-time officers, Bob Bolam and Fazia Hussain-Brown, have provided much needed guidance but allowed the members to lead the dispute in which the level of picketing demonstrated our determination to assert our needs.
“It would be great if other workers on this massive industrial estate were encouraged by our actions and that non-union members would consider joining UNITE, getting organised and becoming part of a general fightback over pay and conditions.”
A delighted Bob Bolam praised the efforts of workplace reps Mark Robertson, Neil Davison and Jaroslaw Andrzejak and said: “This satisfactory outcome for both sides puts money in our members pockets. I would recommend anyone not in a union on Team Valley or elsewhere to contact UNITE for assistance in getting organised.”