Don't Sack Council Workers
In Tower Hamlets and all over the country, council workers are on the front line of the response to COVID-19: carers, caretakers, children’s centre workers, housing and homelessness workers, street cleaners, support workers, social workers, teachers of children with special educational needs, teaching assistants, and many others – not to mention the thousands of council workers in non-critical backroom roles who have now volunteered for redeployment to make sure that vulnerable people in our communities have the support and supplies they need during an unprecedented crisis. We may be relaxing measures, but the crisis has not gone away. Neither has the debt we owe key workers who helped us in this time of need.
And yet on Monday 6 July, 4000 employees of Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets Council will be sacked. The Council are doing this so they can impose new contracts that will reduce existing employment rights. These substantially worse terms and conditions were all overwhelmingly rejected in individual ballots conducted by their unions.
We call on you as councillors, on Mayor John Biggs and his Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, to suspend the notice terminating their employees’ contracts and defer the change so a period of talks and a potential solution could be found.
Although the dispute predates the pandemic, it seemed like the COVID-19 crisis will change everything. Both the NEU and UNISON understood immediately that it would be irresponsible to be in active dispute during a crisis of this magnitude. UNISON invited the Chief Executive to suspend the dispute until the emergency had passed. Mayor John Biggs and his Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, responded at the last minute by delaying the contracts imposition to 6 July.
Yet now, despite all their hard work, workers are threatened again and have no choice but to initiate the previously delayed strike action. On 3, 6 and 7 July we stand in full solidarity with our carers, cleaners, teaching assistants, social workers, library staff and many many more.
Sacking and re-engaging staff now would be deeply damaging, and it would stand in stark contrast to the kind words of support and appreciation we’ve heard at all levels of government for the work of public sector workers. As a Labour councillor, you are elected to represent and defend the interests of the labour movement. It is shameful that a Labour authority would actively go against the best interests of its workforce.
We demand that the imposition of new contracts is suspended and instead a new period of negotiations is resumed.
We believe these changes fall disproportionately on women, on black and Bangladeshi workers, and on workers from other minority ethnic groups. We therefore urge the Council to publish in full accurate Equalities Impact assessment and data, reflecting on the potentially negative impact on our large BAME workforce and communities as a whole.
Labour clapped for key workers, knelt for BLM, knocked down statues and put out statements. Now you need to prove in real terms that you stand in solidarity with workers, you support union action and you will do all in your power to end racial inequalities, not further them.