Tower Hamlets Unison picket line, Friday 3 July. Photo: Sybil Cock Tower Hamlets Unison picket line, Friday 3 July. Photo: Sybil Cock

Tower Hamlets workers went on strike to oppose the Council’s plans to sack them and rehire them on worse contracts, reports Sybil Cock 

On Monday morning Tower Hamlets Council, wholly dominated by Labour, and with a directly elected Labour mayor, John Biggs, will sack around 4000 of its staff.

The plan is to reemploy them on inferior contracts. The scheme, known as ‘Tower Rewards’, will include cuts to travel allowances, severance payments, out of hours payments, and fears around job security.

UNISON members voted overwhelmingly to strike in March but suspended the action as the Covid lockdown took effect. The council has issued this threat to staff at a time when extreme anti-Covid measures are still in place.

Many of these workers are on the frontline of supporting the highly vulnerable population, which includes a high proportion of British Bangladeshis, living in poverty and overcrowded housing. They have worked throughout the epidemic to deliver food parcels, meals and learning materials for children, street cleaning and supporting the homeless, elderly, and vulnerable.

There is a magnificent fightback. UNISON held strikes on Friday and more action is planned for Monday and Tuesday. Several local Labour councillors were on the well-supported picket lines, and the new local MP, British Bangladeshi Apsana Begum gave her support at an online rally. John McDonnell made his support clear.

Tower Hamlets UNISON 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.”   

Tower Hamlets UNISON branch secretary John Mcloughlin said:

“Tower Rewards is a fundamentally flawed programme that increases the pay of the top earners while penalising the bulk of the workforce.    

“The council needs to listen to staff concerns and reverse its decision.”   

This is the same Labour Party that defeated Lutfur Rahman, the left-leaning Independent previous mayor of Tower Hamlets after a scurrilous and racist smear campaign in 2015. 

And the same John Biggs who just two weeks ago appeared in Mile End Park at a Black Lives Matter rally, wearing the T-shirt and mouthing platitudes about the Covid risks that BAME people in Tower Hamlets face. 

Starmer’s sharp shift to the right has given cover to councils like Tower Hamlets who want to attack their workforce. 

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