In the last week 250 workers from One Support, an arm of the One Housing Group (OHG) have had letters from their company asking them to sign a new contracts by the 20th Dec which would see cuts of up to £8,000 per worker. The implication was that if they didn’t sign, they would no longer have a job. This caused huge panic and upset to those workers and their families at an already, financially stressful time of the year.
A time of year that is seeing workers overall face a £4.1billion Christmas debt. The amount that is being borrowed monthly has risen to get through, from £127 to £327, according to a Unite survey. And this is without the inflated energy costs, price rises and other cuts which we are about to see in the New Year. Letters from your boss weeks before Christmas are a cruel (but calculated) way to try and hold the workforce to ransom.
However, in a very short time the UNITE reps and members of the Housing Workers branch have again organised. First off in the summer they fought off this imposition and then had a consultative ballot with over 90% rejecting the original cuts in pay. The company then made a second offer to delay the pay cuts till Feb 2014 and this was again rejected by Unite members. Alongside challenging these cuts, recruitment of more members has been key as well as developing a wider pool of reps for the ongoing fight for decent pay and services.
All sorts of tactics were employed, including raising the issue with the board, who are often unaware of what an organisation is doing on a day-to-day basis. Within hours of receiving a letter the Board confirmed that this was not THE deadline but anyone not signing would be then invited into individual consultation in the New Year. Back tracking already?!
The very reason for the cuts has also been challenged, ‘throughout negotiations, managers have consistently failed to provide any rationale, whatsoever, for slashing wages other than parroting, “it’s the market”. Nicky Marcus, Unite Regional Official argued, “ Managers seem unaware that they themselves are creating “the market”; both in falling wages for frontline staff and, at the other end of the scale, in grotesquely inflated salaries for themselves.”
Kevin Beirne OHG group director of housing, care and support is quoted in Housing Excellence responding to this and the campaign by Unite saying “We are however very disappointed at the way in which Unite are now seeking to portray One Housing Group. We have asked staff to sign up to this long term deal which safeguards their continued employment.” What a manipulative way in which to talk about sending workers letters to sign a new contract (which will see HUGE pay cuts) at this time of the year. “Safeguard my….!’ Commented another Unite member!
One housing support, which is where these cuts are being proposed, saw a surplus of £1 million and its other areas of One Housing saw over a net surplus of £13 million. The net assets are £104,413 Billion. There is ABSOLUTELY NO reason or excuse to make these cuts in the support section or elsewhere in the organization which has billion pound housing development assets and pays its CEO £176k. Hardly the pay awarded of a struggling organisation!
Supported housing includes working with various different groups in different ways, from young people leaving care, or made homeless to others in our communities whose mental health has rendered them less able to cope with day to day living, short or longer term. The work itself is already challenging and the impact of the austerity cuts has brought more potential service users with multiple and complex issues. The staff and the services needed to respond to the Housing and mental health crisis that is being created and effecting mainly working & middle class communities requires more staffing, resources and training and pay to reflect the workloads not less!
With further welfare cuts to be implemented, the service needs will only increase in the coming months under the austerity driven agenda that One and others are using to cut our welfare, NHS, education and services. The austerity argument that there is a debt we as workers should pay for a banker’s crisis nationally has been proven to be false by PCS & Unite unions, and more widely. Corporate tax evasion, if collected, would wipe out the debt (or even if they paid as much as the average worker in tax!). Lets not even go into the sickening waste of money on consultants, external contracts, PFI and housing sell offs…
So how do you fight each cut? As One support has multiple workplaces across London, where some workers are in very small teams or lone working, it’s a challenge to organise in and ensure the workforce and the Union membership are kept informed of what is going on, how to fight and not submit to the pressure to sign the contracts. Reps have been regularly and actively contacting the membership by emails, telephone and keeping them updated as well as the wider group of support workers who will be affected.
Some workers are making their feelings known, “I will not be signing because it will mean my family going without! Hang in there”. This and other messages have created a stir around the organization, and began to raise confidence in the wider membership and workforce. The wider Housing workers branch (which OHG is part of) and Union has also supported the work and raised publicity to apply further pressure on the management, who are, we are told ‘furious’ at this.
“In just a few days we have many new members join Unite as it sees that the union and its reps as the people who could make a difference”. Reps are also reminding the wider membership, that if this goes through, further cuts in pay could be proposed across the whole workforce. A ballot for Industrial action is also being looked into.
Nationally, Unite has launched the housing workers initiative for Sector Standards as a national campaign against the ‘race to the bottom’ in supported housing and social care which OHG is clearly part of. Over 45,000 have signed up over the last couple of months! Please sign up and share with your work colleagues and get involved in building a ‘fighting back’ branch and union.
Unite Housing workers have consistently argued for co-ordinated action against austerity precisely because they also see that the cuts are not necessary but an ideological assault on workers for the benefit of a small minority like CEO’s and big business as opposed to the workforce and service users.
Several members of the branch also took part in the recent lobby of the TUC general council, arguing for this as the next step to name the date for a general strike. “This is not out of random sloganing but seeing and feeling the consequences of the cuts and looking around at the way to fight them. Industrial action, co-ordinated and built for is the most important tool we have to fight this onslaught and time after time we see it bringing bosses back to the table to talk, deliver concessions and win!”