Unite members marching, photo Paul Mattsson

Unite members marching, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Paul Kershaw, Chair, Unite the Union LE/1111 housing workers branch

Neighbourhood managers at Catalyst Housing have started a work-to-rule in response to restructuring proposals that include halving the number of people doing their job.

Staff say workloads are already unmanageable and the changes could result in a drastic decline in service as well as doubling the workload.

Publicly, Catalyst bosses claim they are willing to discuss staff concerns but they have so far been unwilling to engage with Unite officers, or even with the state conciliation service Acas. The housing association refuses to recognise Unite.

At corporate events Catalyst likes to boast that last year’s surplus of £53 million was larger than big high street names such as Greggs the bakers and Foxtons estate agents.

Presumably the size of the surplus is thought to justify last year’s 8% pay rise for Rod Cahill, chief executive of Catalyst, who is now on £201,920 a year.

Belt-tightening in the social housing sector has not extended to its bosses who have taken inflation-busting increases year after year. These figures are forgotten when justifying cuts to staff, tenants and leaseholders.

Management claims its re-structure will result in an organisation that is “palpably different”.

Unite members believe that the intention is to take further steps towards being a palpably different neoliberal landlord.

Events at Catalyst are a particularly crude example of a process that has been happening more widely in the social housing sector.

Landlords blame government policies for cuts but the sector’s surplus of £3 billion last year represented a 25% increase on the previous year, which was also a record.

The operating margin also increased from 26% to 28% last year as costs increased by less than revenues (figures from the Homes and Community Agency global accounts). Some housing associations are experiencing problems but that clearly is not the picture for the sector as a whole.

If the Tory Housing Bill is passed housing associations will be further deregulated, reducing their accountability and making it easier for them to dispose of stock or change tenure.