Unite accuses Mears of using Manchester social housing contract to drive down wages elsewhere

A social housing maintenance contractor has been accused of using its Manchester operation as a benchmark to “suppress” pay rates in other parts of the country.

The trade union Unite claims that Mears is using the lowest rates within its Manchester contract to benchmark what it should be paying on its contracts in Leeds.

Unite is currently embroiled in a dispute with Mears, and joint venture company Manchester Working, over pay differentials and conditions for its employees, claiming its members are paid different rates for the same job.

Industrial action began earlier this month, with a programme of rolling strike days occurring on Monday, Thursday and Friday each week; workers are today staging their fifth day of strike action.

The union added that it “understands” other housing associations and outsourced housing maintenance contracts, particularly in the North West, are also using Mears’ and Manchester Working’s lowest rates in similar ‘benchmarking’ efforts to “deny pay rises, reduce conditions or instigate pay cuts”.

“Mears’ actions are reprehensible not only has it failed to resolve the long-term injustice of its Manchester workforce, but it is knowingly using unjust pay rates to try to suppress wages elsewhere,” said Gary Fairclough, Unite’s regional officer.

“It is deeply troubling that other unscrupulous housing providers are jumping on the bandwagon and attacking pay and conditions by including the lowest Manchester rates in their own ‘benchmarking’ exercises. This creates workplace resentment and is likely to lead to industrial action on other contracts.

“Rather than promoting misery elsewhere management needs to get back round the table and resolve these injustices once and for all.”

In its dispute with Mears and Manchester Working, Unite says its members at the two companies earn up to £3,500 a year less than other colleagues who undertake exactly the same work.

It also says Mears is seeking to introduce a new contract which would increase hours and introduce flexible working that would require greater use of technology but which does not increase pay. Unite also says the company is seeking to introduce a new productivity procedure it derides as a “sacker’s charter” and accused Mears of “pressuring” workers to accept poorer conditions regarding sick pay and vehicles policies.

When contacted about Unite’s claim today, a spokesperson for Mears said the company had no further comment to make, and instead referred Builder & Engineer back to its original statement issued when the industrial action began earlier this month.

That statement said: “We don't accept the points made by Unite and have taken every action possible to resolve this dispute. 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... [W]e increased that offer to 10% – an average of £2,225 per person.

“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.

“Furthermore, all terms and conditions were protected during the recent TUPE transfer, and compare favourably within the market, including: local government pension scheme; generous sick pay – six months full pay followed by six months half pay; 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.

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

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