Socialist Worker

Tower Hamlets strike defies Labour council

Issue No. 2711

Unison members in Tower Hamlets plan to walkout

Unison members in Tower Hamlets plan to walkout (Pic: Tower Hamlets Unison)


Thousands of council workers in Tower Hamlets are preparing to strike against vicious attacks on their pay, terms and ­conditions this week. 

Unison union members in the east London borough planned walkouts on Friday this week, and Monday and Tuesday of next week. 

They are battling a series of attacks under the ­so-called “Tower Rewards” ­programme pushed through by the Labour council.

It could cut severance pay by at least 80 percent, gut the flexitime scheme, slash travel allowances and reduce night work supplements. 

Bosses also want to cut ­workers’ increments as they move up the pay scale, and worsen disciplinary schemes 

Council bosses are ­threatening to sack 4,000 workers and re-employ them on worse contracts. 

Critical

Kerie Anne, Unison assistant branch secretary said workers have been ­“providing critical services to residents over the coronavirus pandemic, sometimes at a ­personal risk to their own safety.”

“It is shocking and ­perverse that a Labour council would use the rare and aggressive tool of sacking and ­re‑engaging its workforce to change contracts without consent,” she said. 

Workers voted 90 percent to fight and the latest move from the council comes after the unions pushed back strikes due in March because of the pandemic. 

In response, the council also delayed the implementation date to 6 July. 

But even though council workers are still delivering vital services to vulnerable Tower Hamlets residents during a pandemic, they are also being forced to defend their jobs. 

Council management are refusing to make any further offers at the Acas arbitrators. 

John Mcloughlin, Unison branch secretary, said a key issue is how the attacks ­disproportionately affect those on lower pay grades. 

“The flaws in this approach have been vividly exposed throughout the Covid-19 crisis which has highlighted the roles of essential workers, often in the lower levels of organisations, and the need to address inequality across society,” he said. 

“We know that staff at these levels are disproportionately from black and minority ethnic (BAME) ­communities and women.”

And the union said the council has refused to order an independent assessment on how Tower Rewards will impact on BAME and women workers.

Inquiry

Mick Smith, Unison black members coordinator, said the council’s refusal to engage in an independent inquiry “is very troubling”. 

He said that the council management were happy to align themselves with Black Lives Matter publicly but have “steadfastly refused” to allow an assessment. 

“Anyone who wants an example of how structural racism and inequality operates in practice need look no further than this.”

On strike days there will be socially distanced picket lines and protests outside the main council buildings that have remained open. Staff who are working from home because of Covid-19 will withdraw their labour remotely.

Tower Rewards has hung over thousands of workers for 18 months—it’s time to strike now and push the attacks back for good. 

Messages of suport to Tower Hamlets Unison on Facebook,  or use the form here. Virtual online rallies at 11.30am on 3 and 6 July—go to bit.ly/THrallies

Strike called at Tameside

Hospital workers at Tameside General Hospital in Greater Manchester are preparing to strike over pay and terms and conditions.

The Unison union members plan to begin a 48-hour walkout on Monday 13 July. 

The security guards, outsourced to subcontractor Engie, are fighting for equal pay with workers who are employed directly by the NHS. 

They earn only the minimum wage of £8.72 an hour—and even less for workers under the age of 25. 

The lowest rate in the NHS is £9.89 per hour.

This means that the Tameside security workers are between £2,000 and £3,000 a year worse off. 

One security guard said, “We feel really undervalued We want to be there protecting our colleagues at the hospital—but this has gone on long enough.

“We deserve the NHS rates for the job, without cuts to our hours which would see us lose out.”

Other outsourced hospital workers have scored victories over equal pay in the last two years by taking action

Every trade unionist should back the Tameside workers’ fight.


Ballot begins as haulage jobs savaged 

Workers at a leading haulage company have started a strike ballot. 

They accuse their bosses of using Covid-19 as “a smokescreen” to close a depot in Suffolk and attack the terms and conditions of more than 100 drivers.

The Unite union began a ballot this week for its nearly 60 members, working for Goldstar Transport, based at Woolpit, near Bury St Edmunds.

The ballot closes on Tuesday 14 July.

Unite said that within days of requesting trade union recognition earlier this month, the management announced to the 107 drivers by email that it was ceasing haulage operations from Woolpit.

The union understands that 12 drivers will be made redundant with ten remaining on site and the other 85 drivers are being offered transfers to its Felixstowe headquarters 33 miles away.

The other reasons for the strike ballot are attacks on terms and conditions from April this year. 

There are also serious health and safety concerns at Woolpit. 

These including the alleged use of crane loads over vehicles when drivers are still in the cab.

Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said, “Unfortunately, like many unscrupulous employers, Goldstar Transport, appears to be using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to halt operations from the Woolpit depot, and impose detrimental terms and conditions on our members.

“It can’t be a coincidence that as soon as Unite asked for trade union recognition, the bosses decided to shut down haulage operations at Woolpit.

“The company’s offer that drivers transfer to Felixstowe, on a less favourable contract is neither fair nor realistic.

“We believe that the company can well afford to keep the Woolpit operation in place, as according to its own website, it says that ‘In 2020, we have an annual turnover in excess of £110 million’.

“Management must negotiate or they could be facing strike action later this summer and right up until Christmas.”


Walk out to win safety  

The Unite union said on Monday that Rowan Foods in north Wales was refusing to pay self-isolating workers their normal pay. 

This is the plant where there was a safety walkout in April. Last week a mass outbreak of the virus was confirmed at the site.

Unite says, “Full sick pay so that employees can stay home and be safe is in our view the key action that would have stopped the virus spreading on this site.”

If there is no pay then workers will come in when they are feeling ill.

This is not some routine dispute. Lives are at stake.

The union should be encouraging safety walkouts to force the bosses to move.


Stop London fire cutbacks  

The FBU union has vowed to fight “unthinkable” proposals to cut the budget for the London Fire Brigade by £25 million over two years. This is part of the Mayor of London’s £500 million cuts plans.

Mayor Sadiq Khan called on the government to provide financial support after the coronavirus pandemic left his administration with a budget shortfall of £493 million. 

The London Fire Brigade is expected to make savings of £10 million in 2020-21 and a further £15 million in 2021-22.

The FBU has condemned the plans and has called on Sadiq Khan to live up to his promise to protect frontline services.


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