By Paul Kerhaw, chair of Unite Housing Workers branch
“...care workers must feel respected if they are to stand any real chance of promoting choice and empowering service users.” A typical comment on social media regarding the St Mungo’s strike.
Commitment to homeless people is paramount so when workers in a homeless hostel take strike action something unusual is happening. St Mungo’s has never before had a strike and until recently had a record of working positively with Unite.
So what is happening that has led to this breakdown between the workers and management? Put simply management have reneged on an agreement when they took over the ‘North Herts. Sanctuary’ in Hitchin to move staff on to St Mungo’s terms and conditions.
It’s a familiar refrain and one that unions are used to hearing. Faced with cuts in grants, management in the charity sector have aped macho management in the private sector. It need not be like this.
When workers moved to a more onerous shift pattern to help improve the service they also expected to be treated with fairness. Instead there was no improvement in the staff’s terms and conditions even though the cost of sticking to the agreement would have cost no more than £4871 a year. It is not hard to conclude since they haven't exhausted opportunities for negotiation that management have chosen to pick a fight on this issues. I'm afraid the actions of management represent a serious failure of governance.
A further shocking failure by senior management is to automatically refuse sick pay - even in the cases of staff who were undergoing exploratory procedures for suspected cancer and for surgery. This has led workers to postpone vital medical procedures because they can’t afford the time off. If these are not genuine cases for sick pay what are? Yet senior managers that take these decisions are themselves on union negotiated terms and conditions so get automatic sick pay - sick pay that can be denied to their own staff.
We wrote to the chief executive, Charles Fraser and to board chair Paul Doe, pleading with them to talk before members were forced to walk out but there was no response beyond a bare acknowledgement.
People give donations and local authorities give contracts to St Mungo’s on the basis that it is a caring and professional organisation. On this issue there isn't any evidence of such care or professionalism.
The strike has had extensive coverage in the media including being the front page lead in the local paper and has featured a number of times on the BBC local radio station.
Local people and passers-by have given their support to our pickets and town centre stalls and cars have been tooting support or even stopping to express support. Taken aback by the facts of the case a BBC interviewer said the situation was bizarre and unfair.
Unite is appealing to responsible employers in the sector to talk to us about a national agreement such as already exists in Scotland. We also send a message to workers in the sector to join us and fight to defend decent services and decent treatment of staff. But St Mungo’s should make a start by simply sticking to its agreements with Unite and treating its workers with basic decency and fairness.
Ways to help:
- Write to the chief executive, Charles Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Write to the local MP, Peter Lilley at email@example.com
- Write to the North Herts executive council member for adult care and health, Colette Wyatt-Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org and local councillor, Judi Billing at email@example.com
- Send messages of solidarity to firstname.lastname@example.org, which will be forwarded to striking members
- Donate to the strike fund: account name Unite Housing Workers branch 1111, account number 20040639, sort code 08-60-01. Please reference all payments “St Mungo’s Hitchin strike”
Come along - 18:00-20:00 Tuesday 3rd December: Silent “Don’t rat on Hitchin workers” protest and leafleting outside the St Mungo’s London Carol Concert. Address: St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street (corner of Salisbury Court), London EC4Y 8AU
And thanks for any expressions of solidarity.