Coronavirus crisis: Tower Hamlets council strike is called off — for the time being

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 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 threatened strike by 4,000 Tower Hamlets Council workers due to begin this-morning has been suspended by the Unison trade union because of the rapidly developing Coronavirus crisis.

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

Union officials decided at the weekend to suspend the industrial action that was set for March 24 and April 1 and 2.

Unison had written to mayor and the council’s chief executive last week calling on them to withdraw the threat of imposing new working contracts on April 13 “at this time of unprecedented public health crisis”, but claims it received “a negative response” from the mayor on Saturday evening.

The council plans to end its current employment contracts on Easter Monday, April 13, and impose new Tower Rewards contracts — right in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic — which the union claims reduce employment rights and allowances.

“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.

“We are at the start of a crisis that is going to need us to pull together to support our community and staff. This can only be through cooperation.”

The union is calling on the local authority to put the new contracts “on hold” and resume talks when the Covid 19 crisis is over when “priorities may well look different”.

Mr Mcloughlin added: “We share the overwhelming public concern about the Covid 19 crisis and the need to focus our efforts on supporting the NHS and other essential services through this unprecedented crisis. That is why we are suspending action at this time.”

The East London Advertiser has requested a response from the council to the union suspending the strike.

The dispute involves the whole 4,000 workforce including social workers, transport, parking, children’s centres, benefits, council tax, career service and ironically environmental health staff.

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 sign the new contract.

Unison and the teachers’ union NEU voted for industrial action to prevent the new contracts being imposed which they claim cut out allowances, payments and long-established working conditions.

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