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Housing workers branch fights back

A year of action and resistance

12 March 2014

Housing workers branch secretary, Suzanne Muna, reports on campaigns across the sector.

Our members at One Housing Group took sustained action involving eleven days of strikes in total, and their persistence paid off. In November, management finally made an offer that was acceptable to members and which reversed some of the cuts that One Housing Group had originally intended to make. 

The outcome of this dispute sent a clear message that fighting back gets results, and warned management in the sector that housing workers are no longer prepared to accept whatever employers try to force on them. 

Equally inspiring has been our small group of dedicated, fighting members within Equinox who recently won a range of concessions following their sustained strike action. Equinox is a small employer, with staff dispersed across multiple projects, many lone workers and low paid frontline staff. 

That they were able to achieve considerable mitigation of threatened cuts despite facing many barriers is testament to their dedication and fighting spirit. It should inspire others in similar workplaces who feel that organising resistance would be too difficult – as our Equinox members have shown, it can be done! 

Early in the year, members at St Mungos won one of the best pay rises in the sector after threatening industrial action. Then, in the run up to Christmas, the employer showed a truly miserable spirit when they reneged on an agreement to extend superior St Mungo terms and conditions to transferred workers at their Hitchin project. 

The housing association received unrelentingly bad press for its treatment of the workers, but instead of doing the decent thing and honouring their promises, the association threatened to withdraw from the services, which is now likely to move to another provider. Nevertheless, reps and the wider membership at St Mungo have been reinvigorated by the dispute and are currently considering their next move. 

Equinox, One Housing Group and St Mungo are just a sample. We also have disputes that are escalating over pay in the Homes and Communities Agency and Circle, and over other issues elsewhere. 

But the greater the number of active workplaces, the more we can join up the struggles and present a united front across the sector. We therefore urge members to get organised. It doesn’t matter how large or small your employer is, or how many members you start with, the branch will help you build and campaign. 

Our branch meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month at Unite House, 128 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8TN. These meetings are a vital forum for branch democracy, directing the branch committee’s work to ensure that support is given where it is most needed. They are also an excellent way for members to link up and share their experiences and advice. 

Branch meetings are open to all members, you don’t have to be a workplace representative, and are friendly and reasonably informal. We would urge members to attend and we can pay for travel and carer expenses. 

We are also campaigning on wider issues in the sector, such as the sector standard campaign which aims to develop a set of minimum standards for housing workers. It is a long-term project that the branch has taken a leading role in developing. 

Among other things, employers signing up to the standards would agree to minimum rates of pay for generic roles, pension provision, training and support for employees, good practice on shift work and working times, and a separate dispute resolution procedure. 

As part of the ongoing campaign, statements and briefings on the standards have been developed for commissioners and the next stage in the campaign will be getting employers signed up across the sector. 

The branch has also been vocal in challenging the welfare and legal reforms through which the ConDems continue to demolish the welfare state. We argue that capping rents, not benefits, would save public funds to a far greater degree, and that paying a decent living wage avoids the problems associated with low pay which has to be topped up with benefits. We have initiated or participated in protests and opposed repossessions and evictions. Over the coming months, we will continue our fight for decent jobs and housing for all. 

Finally, in autumn we participated in a conference convened by Unite to bring together national sector committee members with a view to better coordination on public sector pay. Pay and pension provisions have been viciously eroded over the last few years so we welcomed this move by Unite and will continue to press for action which reverses the cuts. 

In conclusion, it has been a year of unrelentingly hard work for our branch committee members, all of whom also have full time jobs or other commitments and responsibilities. Despite this, the strong organising approach taken by the branch has meant that we have been able to make an impressive impact within the union and across the sector, bringing housing worker issues to the fore. 

This will continue to be our primary aim in 2014/15. 

More information can be found at www.housingworkers.org.uk or by following on Twitter @unitehousing