Council services prepared for Unison's third round of strike action

town hall
  • Measures in place to ensure our residents and businesses remain supported
  • Previous three-day strike featured no more than 15% of workforce and services were not affected.
  • Strike follows Unison’s reluctance to reach collective agreement for 18 months

Tower Hamlets Council is prepared for a third round of three consecutive days (13, 14 and 17 August) of strike action by Unison members starting today.

The council is frustrated that Unison has been consistently reluctant to meaningfully engage, unwilling to compromise and have not offered any viable alternatives to the proposed revised terms and conditions, since consultation began in in January 2019. 

The council’s current terms and conditions have not been updated for over a decade and, as a result, they are out of date, inconsistent and do not support the flexible approach to services that our residents increasingly expect.

Despite many councils cutting staffing budgets, this package includes measures to increase annual leave for most staff and raise the salaries for hard to fill posts such as social workers. This will be funded by reducing severance payments which are paid on top of our enhanced redundancy package. That means we will invest more money in our existing staff rather than those who leave.

For the past 18 months we have tried to reach collective agreement with the unions. Despite the lack of engagement by Unison, all staff had the opportunity to take part in the consultation about the proposed changes, which were amended after listening to their feedback.

Unison instead balloted its members and 656 voted for strike action. The other two council unions are not striking.

Overall, on the previous Unison strike days, no more than 15% of the council’s workforce was on strike. The number of people on strike were: 466 (3 July), 527 (6 July), 634 (7 July), 548 (15 July), 581 (16 July), 568 (17 July).

New contract, pay rises and no job losses

The new terms and conditions came into effect 6th July after the council delayed its implementation because of the Covid crisis. Since then all staff have been moved over to the new terms and conditions and no staff have lost their jobs despite claims to the contrary.

Subsequently, pay has increased for around 450 staff and a further 1000 will benefit from uplift in future years. For example, an entry grade social worker will get an additional £2,358 a year; a rough sleeping coordinator will get an additional £2,000  a year, Environmental Health Officer or Housing Officer will get an additional £1,000 a year and a Kitchen Manager in one of our schools an additional £500 a year.

In a continued effort to reach collective agreement and avoid strike action, last month the council engaged the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)and took part in conciliation meetings with the trade unions.  However, it did not result in any resolution.

Will Tuckley, Chief Executive, said: “We have now moved to the new terms and conditions which mean immediate additional pay for around 450 staff and 1,000 more to benefit in future years, more annual leave for most staff and no job losses despite reduced budget, and two year pay protection for the small number of staff who may be adversely affected.

“The changes will also mean greater flexibility for our workforce and additional support for special leave, and a better service for our residents.

“With changes to digital technology, working patterns and devices, the way people access services and live their lives has changed at a rapid rate over the past decade. Every organisation needs to change to meet the needs of their customers and their workforce.

“On top of that, our budgets have been significantly impacted by the pandemic so it is important we make the most of the money we have. That includes investing in our existing staff rather than those who leave and raising salaries for hard to fill roles such as social workers.

"It’s disappointing that Unison has chosen to again go ahead with strike action rather than continue discussions with ACAS. However, we have put measures in place to ensure our residents and businesses remain supported at a time when they need us the most.”

False claims

Unison has claimed the new terms and conditions discriminate against BAME staff but failed to provide any evidence to back it up.

The council is extremely proud of its diverse workforce which represents one of the most diverse areas in the country. To ensure equality and fairness, a thorough equality impact assessment was carried out as part of the process to ensure that there is no disproportionate detrimental impact to either BAME staff or women.

Key facts about the changes to terms and conditions:

  1. Our staff are our biggest asset that’s why our new contract invests roughly £2.3m more in pay and conditions
  2. Pay for some roles had fallen behind their London counterparts making them hard to recruit to. These changes will increase pay for these roles. For example an entry grade social worker will get an additional £2,358 a year.
  3. The new contract is in addition to significant pay uplifts for lower grades as part of the national pay negotiations – for example last year some lower grades saw a 7.7 per cent pay increase.  We fully support collective pay bargaining and increasing lower pay; we apply the London Living Wage to both our own staff and those employed by external contractors.
  4. The package also increases annual leave for most staff, introduces a new rent deposit scheme and standardises overtime and on call pay to ensure fairness. It updates special leave provisions, including to introduce new categories such as for victims of domestic abuse.
  5. Unlike many councils, Tower Rewards is not a cost cutting exercise, it is modernising our working practice by updating a contract that has been largely unaltered for 20 years or more.
  6. To give staff reassurance, we have committed that anyone adversely affected by any element of the changes will see their pay protected for two years or until pay rises mitigate any loss.
  7. Currently staff who are made redundant are paid an enhanced redundancy package and then 120 per cent extra on top. That means if enhanced redundancy was £10,000 then the individual leaving the council would receive that plus an extra £12,000 severance payment, a total of £22,000. This is significantly higher than most local authorities or other employers offer.
  8. To pay for these improvements we are reducing the amount of money we pay staff when they leave the council. We have capped severance payments to strike a balance that stops big payouts to high earners and protects lower paid staff.
  9. The new contract will still be one of the most generous in London and will offer 40 per cent severance (on top of enhanced redundancy) up to a joint severance and redundancy cap of £25,000.
  10. All changes were subject to a detailed equalities impact assessment which found no disproportionate impact on any sector of the workforce based on gender, ethnicity or any other protected characteristic.
Posted on Thursday 13th August 2020