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Unions hold May Day ‘virtual rally’ over Tower Hamlets jobs threat when Covid-19 crisis ends

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 01:29 30 April 2020

Pickets outside Tower Hamlets town hall last summer when the dispute over new working contracts began. Picture: Mike Brooke

Pickets outside Tower Hamlets town hall last summer when the dispute over new working contracts began. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Teachers join council workers for a public May Day “virtual rally” on Friday demanding a better deal for Tower Hamlets frontline staff after the pandemic crisis is over.

Unison secretary John MCLoghlin... Unison secretary John MCLoghlin... "It can’t be right for essential front-line workers to pay the price later with worse employment conditions." Picture: Mike Brooke

Members of East London NEU teachers union join the May 1 on-line rally organised by Tower Hamlets Unison council staff union to stop new working contracts they say cuts benefits with reduced employment rights.

The rally calls on the mayor to drop his controversial plan to switch 4,000 council staff to the new contracts on July 6.

Staff agreed to postpone strike action on Easter Monday because of the pandemic crisis, the day the new contracts were originally supposed to begin.

They have, instead, been running essential services in the deprived East End — but having to operate without enough protective equipment.

Frontline workers picketting Tower Hamlets Council in 2019 at the start of their dispute over working conditions now being imposed after the pandemic. Picture: Mike BrookeFrontline workers picketting Tower Hamlets Council in 2019 at the start of their dispute over working conditions now being imposed after the pandemic. Picture: Mike Brooke

“The pandemic has thrown a light on inequalities,” Unison’s Tower Hamlets secretary John McLoughlin told the East London Advertiser.

“It can’t be right for those deemed to be ‘essential front-line workers’ to be told to pay the price later with worse employment conditions being imposed on them.”

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Staff had already been issued with 12 weeks’ “notice of dismissal” which was due to run out on April 13, when the pandemic crisis struck. The authority was forced to postpone the move in the face of a walk-out at the height of the emergency, but still intends to bring in the new contracts in July.

“This points to a need for ‘social reckoning’ when the pandemic is over,” the Tower Hamlets union boss insists. “The poor are living in a dense, crowded population where the virus spreads quicker, a disproportionate impact where mortality is high.

“There is also need for adequate protective equipment for council staff, for proper access to Covid-19 testing and for no rush to return to work until it’s safe.”

The suspended strike ballot is still ‘live’, the unions warn. So they could return to industrial action after the coronavirus emergency is over. The 15-month long dispute involves the whole 4,000 workforce including social workers, children’s centres, transport and parking departments, staff working in benefits, council tax, career services — and ironically in environmental health.

The council insists that those refusing to sign the new contracts after the pandemic won’t face the sack, but continue in their jobs on the updated terms.

A town hall spokesman said: “We are changing staff conditions that include increasing annual leave for most and raising pay for hard-to-fill posts such as social workers. This will be funded by reducing severance pay which is on top of our redundancy pay, investing more in existing staff than those leaving.”

The authority says it is “not cutting a single job”, but blames the unions for being “unwilling to compromise”, which Unison refutes.

Speakers lined-up so far for Friday’s May Day “virtual rally” include Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum, Unison’s assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie and Fire Brigades Union chief Matt Wrack.

The public can join the May Day rally at 5.15pm on Zoom: 921-0772-3224.


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