This article first appeared in the Hackney Citizen on 23rd October 2014
Hackney Council has said it will re-evaluate its contract with homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway after it imposed cuts to pay and conditions for frontline workers.
Staff at the charity, which runs hostels on Mare Street and across London, have been striking since Friday after management failed to consult with them or their union, Unite.
The changes include a 19% pay cut for new employees, existing roles being downgraded and redundancies being easier to force through. Meanwhile, the chief executive and HR staff have been awarded £30,000and £5,000 pay rises respectively, according to Unite.
Staff warned the quality of services will be affected as morale is damaged and experience and committed workers leave.
Jonathan Shane, lead member for health, adult care and culture at Hackney Council, said his primary concern was for the welfare of service users, and was concerned about “the ability of St Mungo’s Broadway to deliver effective services” after staff roles are downgraded.
“We will be re-evaluating this contract to ensure we’re happy it will continue to supply the high quality of care we demand,” he said.
A resident at Mare Street hostel, who reported security guards had been drafted in to replace striking staff, said: “The concern is if they cut pay and conditions we’ll end up with people who don’t care about the homeless.”
Bryan Kennedy, a Unite housing representative, had warned cuts could affect future funding as services were run down and the charity’s reputation damaged.
He said: “Hackney awarded St Mungo’s the contract on the basis of not being the lowest bidder because they offer services other providers do not and have a good reputation for doing so. On the back of that reputation they get a lot of charity money from individuals and trusts to provide those extra services.
“If word gets out that [Howard Sinclair] is running the service down, people will stop giving their money and then St Mungo’s Broadway won’t be able to provide those services.”
However, the chief executive of St Mungo’s Broadway (SMB), Howard Sinclair, said protecting the charity’s reputation and charitable funding was important, but the changes were necessary due to funding pressures and increased demand.
Howard Sinclair took over the new charity when St Mungo’s, a housing charity for the homeless, and Broadway, an employment charity for the homeless where he had previously been in charge, merged in April.
Accused of importing an ‘arrogant and controlling’ managerial style, Sinclair implemented the new terms and conditions during the summer before consulting. He is alleged to have called it ‘retrospective consultation’.
In a statement Sinclair said: “Our Board responded to feedback from individuals about original proposals during a two month consultation period and made amends to some of those proposals. We did not receive any specific proposals from Unite representatives during that consultation, nor have we since.”
But a staff member said: “We got emails telling us what they were doing and we could add our bit, but it wasn’t a consultation. They should have gone through the union.”
Around 400 Unite members – a turnout of 67% – subsequently voted 98% in favour of a seven-day strike that ends on Friday, which Nicky Marcus, Unite’s regional officer, described as unprecedented.
She said: “These workers don’t take strike action easily. They care passionately for their clients. Some of them are ex-clients themselves, but they know what happens if you end up with cheap labour and a high staff turnover.”
Yesterday dozens of striking staff from across London held a rally outside Hackney Town Hall.
A Mare Street hostel project worker at the rally, who did not want to be named, said: “We know they’re going to restructure us at some point so I will probably lose £5,000 a year. The job we do is not easy. You have to deal with overdoses, people who use alcohol. I’ve found someone in a room who had passed away. How can we do such a difficult job working with the most vulnerable and not be able to afford to go on holiday or be worrying about bills. I’d have to get another job.”
Sinclair fuelled further anger on Saturday after he reportedly told staff picketing outside the Mare Street hostel he would simply sit the strike out and wait their return.
One of a number of striking workers who heard the comments said: “He came to Mare Street on Saturday and admitted they should have consulted with the union and staff first, but then said he’s just going to wait for the strike to finish and carry on. He doesn’t give a damn.”
With no talks between the union and management planned – despite both sides saying they are ready at any time – staff said they will have a meeting next week to discuss further action.
Union rep Bryan Kennedy warned: “If this goes to arbitration Sinclair will lose as he failed to consult with staff. He’s come up with the term ‘retrospective consultation’ but there’s no such thing. He’s put himself in a very difficult position, so the board [of SMB] needs to step in.”