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A LABOUR-led council in east London has been accused of acting out of “the Margaret Thatcher school of industrial relations” over plans to fire and rehire staff on inferior contracts.
Thousands of essential workers downed tools today against plans by Tower Hamlets to impose new contracts which they claim will shift pay higher up the organisation at the cost of those at the bottom.
Unison members picketed sites across the borough, and refuse workers who were not part of the dispute respected the picket line and refused to take vehicles out in solidarity.
Speaking from the picket line Tower Hamlets Unison branch secretary John Mcloughlin told the Morning Star that workers had been left “with no choice” but to strike after the council refused to back down on its deeply unpopular Tower Rewards scheme.
The scheme, which the council intends to implement on July 6 and will affect 4,000 workers, was first proposed in early 2019. The package slashes severance pay and cuts travel allowances and out-of-hours payments.
Unison claims that it will disproportionately affect black and women workers.
The council insists that the package includes measures to increase annual leave for most staff and raise the salaries for hard-to-fill posts such as social workers, paid for by the severance-pay cuts.
However the cuts to severance pay sparked fears of future redundancies in the economic fall-out from the pandemic.
Responding to claims by the council that the scheme largely benefits workers, the union rep said: “If that’s the case, then why is it that we’re 19 months into these proposals and the workforce have rejected them overwhelmingly at every stage?
“At the end of it all, the way they’re acting is out of the Margaret Thatcher school of industrial relations: if you don’t accept this total package we’ve put in front of you, we’re going to sack and re-engage you.”
Local MP Apsana Begum has spoken out in support of strikers against the actions of the Labour-led council.
She said: “It has been clear to anyone who wanted to know for some time now, that systemic economic inequalities mean that ethnic-minority communities are at a higher risk of being in poverty and so particularly disadvantaged by the health crisis we have endured.
“This is one of the many reasons why it is disturbing that thousands of workers are being sacked and imposed with worsened contracts under the proposed Tower Rewards scheme because evidence suggests that this will further disproportionately impact on black and minority-ethnic communities and women.”
Speaking at an online rally today with over 300 members and supporters of the strike Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that the action of the Labour-led council in a middle of a pandemic “is not only wrong, it is absolutely immoral.”
“That’s why I believe this strike is so important to our 1.3 million members who will be watching what Tower Hamlets do,” he added.
A Tower Hamlets spokesman said: “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.”
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