Barnet Unison strikers Barnet Unison strikers. Photo: @barnet_unison / Twitter

Barnet Unison repairs workers are on strike over sick pay in an important dispute over outsourced workers’ rights

Barnet Unison repairs workers are now in their third week of continuous strike action. The action is solid from this small group of workers. The branch estimates so far around 200 repairs per week are being cancelled as a result of the strike. The strike is over the refusal of The Barnet Group, a local authority trading company 100% owned by Barnet Council, to pay sick pay to a worker injured at work. The injury occurred just three weeks before the same workers signed a contract which does now give them sick pay. As one of his colleagues said, “This could have happened to any one of us.”

How did it ever come to this?

Prior to 2004, all housing services in Barnet, including repairs, were part of the London Borough of Barnet. Under a Labour government, these services were outsourced under Tupe to Barnet Homes, an Arms-Length Management Organisation [ALMO] to access money from the government to make improvements to council housing. Housing repairs were further outsourced to the private-sector company Lovells, and again to Connaught and then finally to Mears.

In 2020, the repairs service transferred back into Barnet Homes, which in 2012 had become a subsidiary of The Barnet Group. The Barnet Group now not only managed Barnet Homes but also other groups of workers from the London Borough of Barnet, and Your Choice Barnet [YCB], who provided care services to the most vulnerable in our community. All these staff transfers happened under Tupe regulations, which are meant to guarantee that existing terms and conditions are kept when workers are moved from one organisation to another. Yet, YCB care workers had their wages cut by 10% a year after being brought into the Barnet Group.

Another Subsidiary of the Barnet Group is a company called TBG Flex. This company was set up with the sole purpose of excluding new workers in the Barnet Group from the local government pension scheme with reduced T&Cs compared to workers on a council contract.

The terms and conditions of the repairs workers had been attacked while in the private sector to such an extent that when the workers returned to Barnet Homes they had only twenty days annual leave, no access to the local-government pension scheme and no sick pay.

Three weeks before a new contract negotiated by Barnet Unison was to be introduced, which gave the workers thirty days annual leave and sick pay, a groundworker was injured while working for Barnet Homes. Barnet Unison asked for his contract to be brought forward so that he could receive sick pay: the employer, The Barnet Group, refused.

Key workers denied

All of these colleagues (including the one injured now) carried out repairs during the Covid pandemic. They were applauded as key-worker heroes and yet when a worker found themselves in terrifying hardship, the company decided to stick by ‘a principle’ and not pay this worker sick pay.

The sum of money the colleague has lost means a huge amount to him and his family, but it is tiny for The Barnet Group which runs Barnet Homes. They have repeatedly said, “It’s not about the money.”

So why make it such a big issue? What noble principle of denying someone sick pay is Barnet Homes trying to defend during this cost-of-living crisis? And why would Barnet Homes, The Barnet Group and Barnet Council prefer around 200 repairs per week not to be completed over doing the right thing?

The repairs workers did not want to be in this situation and, throughout the summer, the branch has been trying to get Barnet Homes to do the right thing, but unfortunately their efforts have been disregarded.

Barnet Unison has approached the new Labour Council to do something and to meet with the branch on this specific issue. After all Barnet Council owns The Barnet Group 100%. So far, they have not had any feedback.

The repairs workers are determined they will not stand for one of their colleagues to be treated in this way and will continue taking strike action against The Barnet Group in solidarity with their colleague.

An injury to one, in this case, is indeed an injury to all!

Unison fully backs our members. Please send messages of support to the branch: [email protected].

Please send donations to the Branch:

Account Name: Barnet UNISON Industrial Action Fund
Account Number: 20039336
Sort Code: 60-83-01

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