Mears’ social housing repairs workers set to strike in 'bitter' dispute over pay

Members of the Unite union working on social housing repair and maintenance contracts in Manchester are to begin industrial action next week in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Over 170 of its members employed by contractor Mears and joint venture Manchester Working are to begin strike action on Monday, 15 May. The union says the “bitter and protracted” dispute concerns workers being paid different rates for the same work.

Unite claims these pay differentials can be as much as £3,500 for the same job and it accuses Mears of “reneging” on an agreement to remove them across and within trade groups. The union has further accused the company of using the winding-down of Manchester Working – the company’s joint venture with the city council – to erode employees’ pay and conditions.

According to the union, workers are being paid “significantly below the regional average”, with many workers on just £22,000. Other workers on the same contract are receiving £25,500 for the same work, it says.

“This is a long running sore and members are no longer prepared to put up with low pay and different rates for the same job,” said Andy Fisher, Unite’s regional coordinating officer. “To make an unhappy situation even worse members are now facing attacks on their terms and conditions by Mears which is seeking to boost its profits at the expense of workers’ wellbeing. This strike action is not being taken lightly and it will mean that tenants won’t receive urgently needed repairs and planned maintenance will be dramatically delayed.”

In January 2017, much of Manchester Working’s staff underwent a Transfer of Undertakings of Employment (TUPE) to Mears, but Unite claims Mears has sought to use this to introduce a more flexible approach to shift working, additional working hours, and greater use of technology with no increase in pay.

Furthermore, the union has accused Mears of seeking to introduce a new procedure for productivity it has derided as a “sacker’s charter”, with the workforce pressured into accepting “poorer conditions regarding sick pay and vehicle policies”.

But in a statement Mears dismissed Unite’s portrayal of the situation and said it has taken every effort to resolve the situation.

“We don't accept the points made by Unite and have taken every action possible to resolve this dispute,” said a spokesperson for the company. “In November last year, Unite and UCATT rejected our offer to increase pay by 8% – an average increase of £1,800 per employee – and also our offer to eliminate all differentials within trade categories.

“The average pay today is almost £25,000 – approaching twice the National Living Wage – with the highest earners receiving over £35,000, including call-out and overtime payments. “Since the dispute began, employees have received an increase of up to 18%, including additional contributions from Mears over and above the national JNC [Joint Negotiating Committee] increases.”

Mears claims that all terms and conditions were protected during the TUPE transfer and “compare favourably within the market”, including local government pension scheme, “generous” sick pay of six months’ full pay followed by six months’ half pay, and 40 days leave including bank holidays.

“We have worked hard to negotiate a transparent and fair offer in a timely fashion, however the dispute has been protracted in part due to the merger between Unite and UCATT, which has been ongoing for some time,” Mears’ spokesperson added.

“We will continue to work with Unite this week to resolve the dispute. In the event of any strike action, we will ensure tenants still receive emergency and urgent repair services so as to minimise any impact on them.”

UCATT merged with Unite in the beginning of January this year. The first strike action is on Monday, 15 May, with rolling strike action every Monday, Thursday and Friday until the dispute is resolved, the union said.

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