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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Council battles

by New Worker correspondent

COMPANIES with council outsourcing contracts are complaining of financial hardship, and some are claiming that they are in danger of going under and need to make redundancies to avoid sinking. They are shy about revealing the details, however. Unite the union has been attempting to see the books of the five main local government outsourcers, who amongst them employ about 16,500 workers in more than 70 local authority contracts.

These companies are: APCOA Parking; street cleaners Continental Landscapes; leisure management company Fusion Lifestyle; “social enterprise” Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL); and waste management firm Urbaser.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab reported that: “GLL has replied refusing to provide the financial data and the other firms have declined to respond at all to our ‘Open the Books’ campaign.”

He contrasted claims from GLL and Fusion Lifestyle whose executives have been in the media saying that they are in danger of going under, with GLL managers who say it is in good health. The union says that although job and pay cuts in this sector have not happened on a mass basis yet, they might be not far off. GLL has begun a redundancy consultation for headquarters staff and it has a standard clause in contracts allowing the company to cut pay by five per cent during times of economic hardship.

“GLL and Fusion staff have been on furlough, but the suspicion remains that when the scheme ends in the autumn job losses and pay cuts will kick-in,” he said, adding that: “Local authorities also need to be on high alert – if contractors cannot afford to run services, they must be taken back in-house immediately.”

It is not just contracted out workers who have a fight on their hands. Workers in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets have taken strike action in opposition to plans by their bosses to sack them and re-employ them on inferior contracts.

Local government union Unison claims that 4,000 workers will potentially be worse off as a result of plans that include cuts to travel allowances and out of hours payments. In addition, it claims that job security and severance pay will be slashed, and the changes will disproportionately hit Black and women workers.

Staff voted overwhelmingly to strike in late March and early April but suspended action as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. GMB and the teachers’ union NEU had earlier been involved but withdrew from the action. Only a few councillors have even mildly criticised the policy and only one of the two local MPs, Labour’s Apsana Begum, has supported the workers.

Despite hopes of avoiding strike action, the council’s determination to force through its plans have left staff with no alternative. Local assistant branch secretary Kerie Anne said: “It’s shocking that a Labour council would resort to sacking and re-engaging staff in order to force through unpopular and unfair contract changes.

“It beggars belief that workers who’ve put their health on the line to deliver critical services throughout the pandemic are being treated in this way.”

The council responded saying 1,300 staff had accepted the terms in contrast to the 650 strikers, that its terms and conditions had not been updated for a decade and the package includes measures to increase annual leave for most staff and raise the salaries for hard-to-fill posts such as social workers. But it admits this will be funded by reducing severance payments.