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A LONDON council has been pressed into a delay on draconian plans to sack and rehire 4,000 workers on inferior contracts this Easter Sunday.
Council staff had foregone strike action against the move in order to concentrate on supporting the community during the Covid-19 crisis, but the council had been pushing ahead until it announced a delay to the plans yesterday.
Social workers, housing and homelessness support, youth services, drug and alcohol services, refuse collectors and street cleaners are among those who could be affected by the new contracts.
Announcing the suspension of its strikes, public service union Unison had urged Tower Hamlets to delay the new contracts, which were to be implemented on April 13, which was initially refused.
But a spokesperson from Tower Hamlets Council said yesterday: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the council and our staff as we focus on delivering critical services and supporting our vulnerable residents.
“As a result, we have decided to delay the implementation of Tower Rewards until early summer to give staff more time to consider their new contract.”
Tower Hamlets first proposed the Tower Rewards scheme in early 2019.
It has been bitterly opposed by workers, who say that its contracts are “inferior” as they slash severance pay and disproportionately affect workers on low incomes.
In February, Unison and the National Education Union — whose teachers are also affected by the scheme — balloted members, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
GPs in Tower Hamlets had written a letter to the council accusing leaders of “ignoring the goodwill of these key workers who are putting the health of Tower Hamlets before the health of themselves, and their families.”
Another letter signed by over 100 trade unionists and Labour activists had urged the council to rethink the move.
“The draconian action would be felt bitterly by workers who have unilaterally given up their right to strike,” it says. “As they have understood, the priority of all of us must be to keep our communities safe.”
The borough’s Labour parties and local MP Apsana Begum also opposed the plans.
Tower Hamlets Unison branch secretary John McLoughlin told the Morning Star that it had been “incomprehensible” that a Labour council could consider the move at a time of national crisis.
“It shows an incredible lack of leadership at a time when everyone should be pulling together,” he said yesterday.
Speaking before the U-turn was made, he told the Star: “To me this is an example of ‘we run things, we change the contracts’ and I don’t think that is the kind of leadership we need to be able to beat Covid-19.”
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