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Gas managers to strike at Newham Council in latest union row

PUBLISHED: 16:00 27 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:32 29 April 2019

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Newham Council is facing a third industrial dispute as three gas managers prepare to strike at the repairs and maintenance service.

They are striking for 48 hours from May 9 over the council's withdrawal of call out payments without consultation last December, according to the union Unite.

The union estimated that the fee was worth about £550 a month, meaning the managers have lost £2,000 so far.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said the union's members can't afford to lose such a large amount of their income.

“Their action will disrupt the repairs service, unless the management enters into a constructive dialogue to settle their grievances,” he said.

“It is has become apparent that Newham council is beleaguered by a very poor HR culture – the results of which are coming home to roost. Now is the time for the council's bosses to put their employment practices under the microscope and rapidly make much needed improvements.”

Call out payments are made when a worker is on-call and is sent on a job outside of office hours.

The managers coordinate and provide technical support for workers carrying out work during call-outs, said Mr Kasab.

He added that they vet calls to make sure emergencies are dealt with quickly and were the only ones who were to no longer benefit from the call-out payments.

The managers work for the Repairs and Maintenance Service, a department that came under scrutiny last year for running £9 million over budget.

Duplicate call-out payments totalling £20,070 in 2014 led to the money being taken back out of salaries, potentially illegally.

Two other groups at the council are being balloted on strike action.

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A 20 per cent pay cut in the housing repairs department planned from June has led 75 workers to take a vote on whether to strike or not.

A council spokeswoman said negotiations with Unite are ongoing adding the 20 per cent loss of income figures are incorrect and based on a misunderstanding about the new pay structure, since cleared up.

She said: “The proposed pay re-structure has been introduced to improve the performance of parts of our repairs service.

“Under previous arrangements some employees worked as if they were independent traders, charging labour at a fixed percentage of the total cost of work.

“This system was found to be open to potential abuse and disincentivise the completion of low value repairs with resident satisfaction with the work not being a priority.”

She added the pay proposal – which bases earnings on the completion time for a piece of work following National Housing Federation standard calculations – was subject to consultation.

“We value our staff, and the unions who represent them, and will continue to work and consult with them,” she said.

Another 45 refuse workers are considering a walkout over what Unite says is the council's failure to follow a grading structure that has cost people up to £20,000.

A council spokeswoman said talks with the refuse workers are ongoing and that she was confident the authority would reach a solution soon.

But she said the issues with managers at the RMS was more complicated due to the chequered past of the department – it's finances are currently being reviewed.

“The review highlighted issues with the way some workers were paid, and how they were working, including the three gas managers. As a result the council has proposed changes both in the way workers are paid, and in the way they are asked to work.”

In the council's view, the changes will improve performance at the RMS for residents and get better value for money for the authority.

The spokeswoman added that the council was open to talks with the workers and the union.

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