Photo: Sanctuary staff member/CC
Photo: Sanctuary staff member/CC

Paul Kershaw, Chair, Unite housing workers branch

Hundreds of repair jobs have been cancelled in advance of the first-ever strike in Sanctuary Housing, a large nationwide housing association. The London repairs team want proper recognition and negotiating rights for their trade union, Unite.

They are also calling for a pay increase to compensate for cuts in real-terms pay. Last year, the CEO Craig Moule got a 9% increase in his basic pay, bringing the total to £380,213.

Tenants back them

Local Sanctuary tenants actively support the workers in their battle. They complain about the use of contractors instead of directly employed staff, and Sanctuary’s failure to listen to tenants. Last year, the Housing Ombudsman found Sanctuary guilty of gross maladministration when Sanctuary was found to have let damp ‘fester’ in a tenant’s home.

Sanctuary Housing revenues for last year stood at £943 million, with its surplus increasing by 73% to £101.3 million. There is no doubt about its ability to pay.

Pay cut

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Sanctuary Housing imposed a significant pay cut on its workers during the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, despite its extremely healthy financial position. It is also refusing to recognise the collective bargaining rights of its unionised workers. Our Sanctuary members have their union’s unwavering and total support.”

The Sanctuary lead Unite rep commented: “Since we started the union two years ago, we have come a long way. The result of this ballot shows how angry members are. 100% of members voting for strike action should be a wake-up call for management.”

Another worker said: “Repair staff and tenants have long been asking for better working and living conditions, but the workers have been left with no other choice but to call a strike, with the support of tenants. We hoped it would not have to come to this, but with no willingness from Sanctuary to enter any discussions, this is the only course of action at the moment. Sanctuary has spent too long telling their workers and tenants ‘No’. It’s now time we say ‘No’ to their treatment of us.”

New trade unionists

New members have been signing up to the union since the strike was announced. While the current action is confined to the London maintenance team, the organisation owns and manages over 120,000 homes across England, Wales and Scotland, and employs over 14,000 people.