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Two arrested on picket line outside Tower Hamlets transport depot on 2nd day of council strike

PUBLISHED: 15:46 06 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:06 06 July 2020

Unison's online rally for Tower Hamlets council strike action

Unison's online rally for Tower Hamlets council strike action

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Two protesters were arrested in the East End today on a trade union picket line during the Tower Hamlets council workers’ strike now in its second day.

Striking defiance... outside Tower Hamlets council's housing office in Bethnal Green. Picture: UnisonStriking defiance... outside Tower Hamlets council's housing office in Bethnal Green. Picture: Unison

Details emerged during an online rally by the Unison trade union which has been staging pickets outside six council centres in its long-running dispute over controversial employment contracts that have been brought in from today.

Police were called at the Blackwall transport depot in Silvoxcea Way, near the Blackwall Tunnel, where two protesters who were not union members had joined the picket.

They were deemed “secondary pickets” and were taken away for obstruction in the cul de sac leading to the depot.

“It’s a day of shame, police arresting two people who came to support us,” the union’s chief Tower Hamlets negotiator John McGloughlin told today’s rally. “They were told it was unlawful to picket as they didn’t work at the depot. Thatcher tactics are being used against us — and of all times during the pandemic.”

On the picket line... outside Tower Hamlets council officesOn the picket line... outside Tower Hamlets council offices

The union claiming the new contracts shrink income with travel and other allowances stopped and severance pay cut by 80pc, as well as “reduce flexible working and adversely affect other entitlements”.

Council staff have supported the community during the Covid-19 emergency. Now the union says they are being “thanked” with the sack during the pandemic in order to be re-employed on the new contracts.

The two who were arrested “were just coming to show their support”, the rally heard.

The mayor said after the first strike day on Friday that the council had worked for the past 18 months to seek “collective agreement on changes” to the pay and conditions contracts. But talks broke down at Acas, the conciliation service. Around 1,300 staff had now opted for the new contract, which the mayor pointed out was “far more than voted for this strike”.

Picket in Roman Road outside council housing office. Picture: UnisonPicket in Roman Road outside council housing office. Picture: Unison

Unison accuses the town hall of being “insensitive” sacking staff during the Covid emergency in order to re-employ them on new contracts.

The council accused the pickets of blocking the road and preventing access.

A town hall spokesman said: “A picket on Friday outside our Blackwall depot extended into the road and vehicles were unable to get out. We respect the right of unions to picket, but not blocking roads and preventing access to property.”

It affected bin collections and children with additional needs who couldn’t be collected for school because bus transport couldn’t reach them, the council pointed out.

300 join trade union's online rally in dispute with Tower Hamlets Council300 join trade union's online rally in dispute with Tower Hamlets Council

“The police were called on that occasion,” the spokesman added. “The obstruction was cleared without the need for any arrests.”

A similar incident took place today outside the depot when police were called again and arrests were made.

Refuse workers from another union refused to cross Unison’s picket line on Friday. Their jobs have recently been taken over “in house” by the council which has ended using contractors for refuse collections. The refuse workers fear what the council is doing with 4,000 staff contracts today could soon be done to their working terms and conditions.

Pickets were staged outside the town hall at Mulberry Place in Blackwall, the Poplar and Whitechapel Idea stores, Albert Jacobs housing offices at Roman Road in Bethnal Green, the car pound at Commercial Road in Limehouse and the Blackwall transport depot, as well as outside Mile End Hospital in a joint protest with NHS workers. Further pickets are planned from 5am tomorrow.


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