Coronavirus: Tower Hamlets strike threat looms during health crisis

PUBLISHED: 17:27 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:27 18 March 2020

Demo outside Town Hall by Tower Hamlets council staff in 2019 rejecting new employment contracts being imposed. Picture: Mike Brooke

Demo outside Town Hall by Tower Hamlets council staff in 2019 rejecting new employment contracts being imposed. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The strike threat by 4,000 Tower Hamlets council workers could be lifted because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Unison's Tower Hamlets secretary John McGloughlin... Unison's Tower Hamlets secretary John McGloughlin... "It will seem perverse if the council sacks the very workforce to run essential services through the Covid 19 crisis." Picture: Mike Brooke

The Unison trade union has offered to suspend its industrial action planned for March 24 and April 1 and 2 “in light of the public health emergency”.

It has called on the authority to “meet half way to pause the dispute”.

The council plans to sack nearly 4,000 staff on April 13 and offer re-employment on a disputed new contract — right in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic.

“These are the very staff the council is relying on during the unprecedented public health crisis,” Unison’s Tower Hamlets secretary John Mcloughlin said.

“It will seem perverse if the council sacks and then re-engages the very workforce that our community is relying on to run essential services.

“The new contracts can be put on hold and discussed again when we have got through the Covid 19 crisis, when priorities may well look different.”

The union has now called on to the mayor and the town hall’s chief executive urging them to delay imposing the contract on April 13 so that “all parties can put their energy into supporting the community”.

This would send a message to staff that the council recognises the vital role staff are being asked to play over coming months and that it won’t impose contracts at this time, the union points out.

The union boss told the East London Advertiser last night: “They won’t talk to us since we voted to strike. That’s reprehensible in light of the changing circumstances with the coronvirus emergency. We want to put the dispute ‘on hold’ and come back to it when the emergency is over.”

The paper has requested a response from the council to the union offer to suspend strike action.

Unison’s dispute involves the whole 4,000-strong workforce in all departments, including social workers, office staff, transport, parking, children’s centres, benefits, council tax, career service and ironically environmental health.

Town Hall staff have already been issued with 12 weeks’ notice of dismissal which runs out on April 13. They will be out of a job on Easter Monday if they don’t accept the new contract.

Members of Unison and the teachers’ union NEU voted for industrial action to prevent the new so-called Tower Rewards contracts being imposed on them which they claim cut out many of their allowances, payments and long-established working conditions.

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