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Key council division poised to go on strike as sacked managers win tribunal case

PUBLISHED: 14:00 09 July 2019

The depot in Bridge Road where the repairs division is based. Picture: Polly Hancock

The depot in Bridge Road where the repairs division is based. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

The council division responsible for repairs to social homes could go on strike if an ongoing dispute is not settled, the union has said.

The council division responsible for repairs to social homes could go on strike if an ongoing dispute is not settled, the union has said.

On Tuesday, May 21 members of Unite in Newham Council's repairs and maintenance service (RMS) voted unanimously in favour of strike action on a near 70 per cent turnout.

It comes as three managers sacked for gross misconduct in an internal fraud probe last year have won their case against Newham Council at a tribunal.

RMS is responsible for all repairs to the 15,700 council homes in the borough, as well as gas servicing and highways works. For its part, the local authority has said talks with the union remain "ongoing and positive".

The division-wide strike ballot was prompted by a planned overhaul of the payroll system first revealed by the Recorder in March.

Unite has claimed that the new proposed scheme would represent an effective pay cut for some workers.

It also raised the issue of deductions having been made from workers' pay in the past without their consent, which as we also detailed in March, amounted to tens of thousands of pounds in 2014 and 2016.

Other areas in dispute are health and safety, as some workers have been exposed to asbestos while carrying out their duties, and reports of bullying and harassment by senior management.

Unite regional officer Onay Kassab said: "Our members in RMS have been very, very patient. The employer should have got the message with the strike vote, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that we will need to announce the date for a strike in order for the employer to take the matter seriously.

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"Unite members in Newham are having to resort to voting for strike action in order to win decency, respect and fairness at work. It should not have to come to this."

The union also called on Councillor John Gray, the council's lead member for housing and deputy mayor, to intervene and support members. He has been contacted for comment.

A Newham Council spokeswoman said: "Since May talks with local Unite officials have been ongoing and positive.

"The figures regarding a loss of income are based on a misunderstanding about a proposed pay structure which has since been cleared up. Progress has also been made to tackle the allegations of bullying.

"A proposed replacement pay structure is currently the subject of consultation with local shop stewards and is being worked through collaboratively.

"We value our staff, and the unions who represent them, and will continue to work and consult with them on these proposed changes."

The move follows a 48-hour strike by three gas managers within RMS following the withdrawal of a call-out payment last December.

Separately, three former managers at RMS who were fired during an investigation into overtime payments last year have won their case against the council.

Last Tuesday a judge at East London Tribunal Hearings Centre ruled that Richard Musson, Westley Mitchell and Amrik Thathy had been wrongly and unfairly dismissed in July 2018.

No order has yet been made as to costs but at the time of the original hearing the three were seeking to recover between £37,000 and £58,000 each.

The council has yet to comment on the ruling.

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