Friday, 28 April 2017

Notting Hill staff to vote on strike action

Staff at a London housing association will vote on strike action this month following proposed changes to terms and conditions.

Ballot papers have been sent to members of trade union Unison at Notting Hill Housing Group.

Unison said Notting Hill had proposed to abolish paid carers’ leave. The union also said the landlord was planning for staff redeployed to a lower-paid job to receive their original salary for six months rather than the current two years and relocation allowances would last for three months rather than a year. Flexitime, where staff have a contractual right to accrue overtime and take it as leave, would be replaced with flexible working, where staff must apply to managers to change their hours.

The association had considered extending working hours from 35 to 37 a week without extra pay but the board ruled out the idea. However it planned to implement the other changes without negotiating with the union, Unison said.

Almost half of the 210 Unison members at Notting Hill took part in a vote in December to decide whether they should be balloted for strike action. A total of 95 per cent voted in favour and 5 per cent opposed the idea.

Unison said carers’ leave cost Notting Hill a total of £30,000 in 2008 and its abolition combined with the end of flexitime, would have a disproportionate impact on female staff with caring responsibilities. It said cuts in salary protection and relocation allowances were ‘a cynical attempt to cut employment protection measures in advance of likely restructures and office moves’.

Unison Housing Associations Branch secretary Mary Powell said: ‘Notting Hill is one of a number of London-based housing associations which has imposed cuts to terms and conditions on its staff, or is threatening to do so. Such cuts come at a time when the need for quality social housing is greater than ever. Staff are expected to deliver a high standard of customer service whist seeing their own conditions of employment eroded. Low morale will only increase staff turnover to the detriment of services.’

A Notting Hill employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘People are willing to make changes if it is necessary but there’s been no negotiation so it is demoralising. The way it has been put forward people feel they are being told they are not working hard enough. It seems the hardest hit are families and carers. Carers’ leave had such a small financial impact on the company that we cannot understand why they would want to get rid of it.’

Notting Hill chair Paul Hodgkinson is also a trustee of Parenting UK, a membership body for organisations which support parents.

A spokesperson for Notting Hill said the organisation was implementing the new terms and conditions to improve residents’ satisfaction with services.

‘We very much value our staff and will continue to try to balance their needs with our commitment to putting our residents first. We believe that the new terms and conditions are reasonable and compare very favourably with those offered by similar organisations,’ she said.

‘We have conducted an equality impact assessment to make sure that the proposed terms and conditions would not lead to any member of staff being treated unfairly.’

The spokesperson added that the association had increased paid holiday and was proposing to offer time off in lieu, but could not afford the current level of relocation and redeployment benefits and flexible working provided more predictability around staff attendance than flexitime which would allow a better service for residents. The organisation’s services had become expensive compared with other landlords and staff costs were a big part of this. She said the organisation was listening to staff and talking to them about individual concerns.

She said the organisation had discussed the proposals with Unison but had not been convinced by alternatives put forward by the union.

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