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Strike call at charity for the homeless

Industrial action at St Mungo’s will ‘cause disruption’ says trade union

07 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot

COUNCIL chiefs are under pressure to swing behind homeless support workers after hundreds voted for strike action this week.

A ballot of 500 Unite union members working for the St Mungo’s charity voted overwhelmingly in favour of the walk-out in response to disciplinary procedures and sickness policy.

Westminster Council is a key commissioner of St Mungo’s which provides accommodation, employment and health services for some of the borough’s most vulnerable people.

Unite says its strike will “cause disruption to service delivery” in Westminster and is calling on the council to put pressure on St Mungo’s chief executive Howard Sinclair “to return to the negotiating table for last-ditch talks”.

Regional officer Tabusam Ahmed said: “The last thing our members want is to cause hardship to vulnerable homeless people. But after more than a year of having their demand to be treated more fairly ignored, they’ve had enough. This was a resounding vote against a heavy-handed and bullying management style. If the strikes go ahead, the services councils rely on to support vulnerable, homeless, people in their areas will be disrupted. But this is the responsibility of senior management.

“We are urging all commissioning local authorities using St Mungo’s services to exert pressure on the management to get back around the negotiating table.”

The dispute, which has been going on for a year, is about a “junior pay cap” and “an onerous sickness policy and disproportionate use of grievance and disciplinary procedures”, the union says.

In 2018 the council teamed up with St Mungo’s to provide a new package of “street-based” support for rough sleepers. It included response teams, outreach services, and training for volunteers working with the homeless in Westminster.

At St Mungo’s Mr Sinclair said: “We are disappointed with the ballot result.

“We made a series of offers that Unite officials refused to engage with. Our offers remain on the table. We are not cutting pay, altering staff terms and conditions, nor making enforced redundancies.

“We continue to believe a strike is disproportionate and unnecessary, based on the ballot points made, and are asking our Unite members to encourage their Unite representatives to help us resolve this dispute at Acas [the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service].

“Our contingency planning will now have to ramp up, but I want to reassure people that our priority remains to protect our vulnerable clients during these winter months.

“Our efforts remain focused on listening and addressing staff concerns. We urge Unite officials to discuss these so we can build a better relationship with Unite for the future. St Mungo’s will continue to do everything necessary to protect the safety and interests of our most vulnerable clients.”

Unite said the length of the strike would be determined after talks taking place in the next few days.

A council statement said: “St Mungo’s is one of several partners that we work with to support vulnerable rough sleepers and help them find a route off the streets and into accommodation.

“We’re aware of the potential industrial action, and so already working closely with St Mungo’s and our other providers to make sure that if it does go ahead it does not impact our key services.”

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