Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/777/17296
One Housing Group workers go into battle again
A One Housing Group striker
Unite members at One Housing Group (OHG) will strike for five days starting on 5 September. Following a four-year pay freeze, OHG management is slashing frontline workers' wages by up to 25%. Some of the most skilled and experienced staff will lose £8,000 a year.
Last month OHG announced record profits of £36 million, up from £13 million last year. Senior executives have posted YouTube clips of themselves boasting of their success at the same time that over 200 of their own employees are due to face severe financial hardship.
Opposition to the cuts has seen membership of Unite the Union increase from 35 to 180 since the decision to cut pay was announced in May last year. Collective action against management's plans to lower wages has already delayed the cuts by 22 months and they have also backed down on threats to dismiss workers who refused to sign new contracts at the lower pay rates.
A Unite representative in the workplace said: "OHG make cuts at the same time as making record profits. They refuse to negotiate, refuse all contact with Acas, it is just a race to the bottom."
OHG management admit that they make "a healthy surplus", but insist they need frontline staff to take a pay cut to meet the group's plans to expand in the care and support market. They boast in the media of undercutting the NHS by 80%.
One mental health worker in Islington described how they do this: "They replace experienced staff with low-paid support assistants and replace night staff with sleepover staff earning £3.75 an hour, it's all lone working now and staff don't feel safe."
OHG claim that they have created 500 jobs in the support sector. But almost all of these jobs existed already and most of those transferred in are having their wages slashed.
In April 2012 OHG won £15 million worth of contracts over five years to provide visiting support to vulnerable adults in Essex and former rough sleepers in the whole of South London. Before the contracts started, the 130 staff were assured by OHG managers that there were no plans to change pay rates.
But a month after becoming OHG employees, staff were told they would have their pay cut by £2,000 on average. One Essex Unite member said: " I feel lied to. I thought I was secure and now I don't know how I'll manage". A homelessness worker from South London said: "They said my job wouldn't change and my pay would stay the same. I was offered redeployment by my old employer, Thamesreach before OHG took over but I wanted to continue supporting my clients and see their support through. Now I've had my pay cut, I feel cheated, I wish I had never trusted them."
Instead of negotiating, OHG tried to divide the workforce. Management imposed a £750 bonus without consultation but excluded all frontline care and support staff.
Their plans backfired, frontline staff including managers who didn't get the bonus, submitted dozens of grievances citing breach of contract, and several equality impact complaints have been lodged.
One housing officer decided to donate the whole of her £750 bonus to the strike fund stating that: "We should all be treated as one at OHG".
Other Unite data reveals that strike action was as well supported by those not affected by the pay-cuts as those that were. One frontline worker from a youth service in Hackney, who would actually get a small rise if the changes happen said: "I don't agree with the way they're doing it, it's only a matter of time until it happens again and we are all on the minimum wage".
A manager of a mental health service in Camden said: "I'm not getting a salary decrease but the same thing could happen to managers as well".
- OHG strikers will be joining the NSSN lobby of the TUC on 8 September to demand a 24-hour general strike. See www.shopstewards.net
In The Socialist 28 August 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
'Youth Fight for Jobs' campaigning
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party reviews