Potential strike action could hit Tower Hamlets Council services

NHS staff and doctors joined picket at Mile End Hospital in 2020 supporting council strikers

NHS staff and doctors joined picket at Mile End Hospital in 2020 supporting council strikers - Credit: Unison

Thousands of council workers are looking at possible industrial action a year after they called off a strike to keep essential Tower Hamlets services going at the height of the Covid emergency. 

The employees are being balloted in protest at controversial “fire and rehire” contracts brought in last year, which they say reduces employment rights. 

Trade union demo outside Tower Hamlets town hall when the new contracts were proposed

Trade union demo outside Tower Hamlets town hall when the new contracts were proposed - Credit: Unison

The ballot by the Unison trade union, which opened June 24, runs for a month and asks if the council staff should stage another walk-out over alleged cuts to severance pay and travel allowances they say were imposed in the first lockdown.  

“Tower Hamlets was the first major employer to ‘fire and rehire’ during the pandemic,” the union’s assistant branch secretary Kerie Anne told the East London Advertiser. “That's a stain on the Labour council’s reputation that it will never shake off.  

“The staff remain angry about their treatment and the cuts to their working rights, so they’ve asked to be balloted again for strike action.” 

Protest by staff on strike at council housing department in Roman Road July 2020

Protest by staff on strike at council housing department in Roman Road July 2020 - Credit: Unison

Unison members downed tools and staged picket lines over nine days in July and August last year in protest at the contracts being imposed during the pandemic and at the “fire and rehire” tactics. 


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Staff who suspended the strike last year to work during the pandemic later faced job losses and redundancy for not signing the new contracts they claim cuts any severance pay by 80 per cent, the union maintains.  

Mayor John Biggs and the council's chief executive Will Tuckley maintained at the time that the new contracts were “not a precursor to planned redundancies on the cheap”. 

Protest at town hall when Tower Hamlets Council voted in 2019 to bring in controversial new contracts

Protest at town hall when Tower Hamlets Council voted in 2019 to bring in controversial new contracts - Credit: Unison

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The council acknowledges the pandemic had a major impact on staff keeping critical services going and delayed the new employment terms and conditions by three months “to give staff more time to consider their new contract”.  

A town hall statement to the Advertiser says: “Unison’s decision to hold an industrial ballot is disappointing. We have invested an extra £2m in pay and conditions, raising salaries for many posts, increasing annual leave and retaining a good severance scheme on top of enhanced redundancy terms.” 

It adds: “We have amended our terms and conditions following staff feedback and must now focus on continuing to change services to meet changing needs.”  

Staff say they faced job losses and redundancy for not signing the new contracts which the union said cut any severance pay by 80 per cent.   

The council accept that redundant staff previously got enhanced payment of 120pc on redundancy "in effect paying twice on exit". Those now made redundant get 40pc severance on their redundancy pay.

So more action could go ahead this coming July and August the union wins the strike ballot, with pickets outside the town hall and six other council centres at Albert Jacobs House, John Onslow House, Mile End Hospital, Poplar and Whitechapel Idea Store library centres and the car-pound in Commercial Road. 

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