Unite Battles Mears Over £3,500 Differencial

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Striking Mears workers on the picket fighting for fair pay, they will be striking continuously from this Saturday until Friday August 4th
Striking Mears workers on the picket fighting for fair pay, they will be striking continuously from this Saturday until Friday August 4th

Unite, the UK’s largest construction union, announced on Monday a dramatic escalation in strike action as part of a long running dispute with private contractor Mears and joint venture company Manchester Working (operated by Mears) over pay differentials and attacks on terms and conditions.

unite battles mears over £3,500 differential

The 170-plus housing maintenance workers employed by the two organisations will be striking continuously for four weeks from Saturday 8th July to Friday 4th August.

The announcement comes as workers take part in the eighteenth day of strike action of the dispute.

The decision to escalate the strike action follows a refusal by Mears to find a negotiated settlement through talks to the dispute.

Instead the company has sought to undermine the ongoing action, by requiring staff to work on weekends, which is not part of their normal working week.

Younger workers have also been directly targeted and bullied by management into breaking the strike.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Andy Fisher said: ‘Unite is stepping up its strike action in response to Mears’ failure to enter into negotiations to resolve the dispute and is a direct consequence of the company’s attempts to undermine our industrial action.’

Both Mears and Manchester Working have failed to deal with longstanding problems regarding pay differentials, which results in workers being paid up to £3,500 less than colleagues for undertaking the same work.

The dispute also concerns attacks on terms and conditions on the Mears workforce.

The company is seeking to introduce a new contract which increases hours, introduces flexible working and requires the greater use of technology.

Mears is also seeking to introduce a ‘productivity procedure’ which has been described as a ‘sacker’s charter’ and is pressurising the workforce to accept poorer conditions regarding sick pay and vehicle policies.

The increased industrial action will in particular affect social housing tenants in the north of Manchester whose properties are managed by Northwards housing association and where Mears undertakes the maintenance, repairs and refurbishment programme.

Unite is warning tenants to be vigilant during the period when workers are on all out strike as it is thought likely that Mears will use an increased number of sub-contractors.

Under the company’s own policies, all sub-contractors should be wearing Mears branded clothing and should have been Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checked.

For their own protection tenants should only allow workers access if they meet these requirements.

Fisher added: ‘Inevitably the escalation in action is going to have serious consequences for tenants; while this will lead to a delay in repairs and maintenance work I hope that they recognise that this is entirely the making of Mears.

‘Our members have only taken industrial action as a last resort.

‘Mears has had years to resolve this issue and end the inequality and injustice faced by our members but has failed to do so.’

The industrial action began on Monday 15 May and since that date workers have been taking part in a rolling series of strikes, occuring on Monday, Thursday and Friday of each week.

Once the all-out stoppage concludes the rolling strikes will be reinstated.

Members of Unite demonstrated outside the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Housing 2017 conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex last Thursday while taking part in their 16th day of strike action.

The conference included a session titled ‘Manchester Housing and Devolution’ and was led by Des Morris, managing director, Manchester Working, Mears Group and Robin Lawler, chief executive, Northwards Housing.

The involvement of Northwards Housing was also controversial.

The striking workers undertake maintenance work on the properties that Northwards manages in Manchester.

Despite repeated calls for Northward to intervene and help resolve the dispute it has refused to do so.

Unite’s regional co-ordinating officer, Andy Fisher, said: ‘Mears and Northwards have got to stop pretending that it is business as normal.

‘They are both involved in a long-running and bitter industrial dispute, and workers are going to challenge their presence at every possible juncture.

‘It is simply incredible that Mears has the audacity to speak at the Housing 2017 event.

‘Given the way the company treats its workforce I hope that no other social housing organisation attends the talk.

‘Until this dispute is resolved these sharks have absolutely nothing positive to add to the social housing agenda.

‘This dispute would never have occurred if housing services hadn’t repeatedly been split up and sold off.

‘Not only is this inefficient and expensive it sowed the seeds for the present dispute.

‘We hope that the new deal for devolution in Manchester will result in housing services being brought back in-house under democratic control.’

• Unite is calling for a radical new approach to regulations and safety laws, following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay said: ‘Unite has repeatedly warned that attacks on safety laws and the weakening of the building regulations could have catastrophic consequences.

‘Sadly those concerns have been shown to be entirely correct.

‘We call on all politicians of all parties to take responsibility and act in the best interests of the industry, workforce, tenants and the public.

‘We now need to have a major sea-change in the way that we view regulations.

‘Rather than a knee jerk reaction to cutting red tape we should be educating people to understand that properly enforced laws and building regulations are essential in ensuring safety.

‘In particular, we need to professionalise the construction industry by introducing a licensing and company registration system so only fully accredited workers and bona fide construction companies can undertake construction work on all future public sector contracts, especially involving safety critical work.’

Unite has three key demands: an overhaul of building regulations, the end of attacks on existing regulations and the implementation of a licensing regime across the industry.

Unite’s national construction committee is calling for an urgent review of the existing building regulations which must place safety first rather than profit at its core.

As well as a complete prohibition on flammable materials in buildings, Unite supports the installation of sprinklers in all new social housing and public buildings.

Unite further supports the retrofitting of sprinklers in existing buildings at the earliest possible opportunity.

Unite is calling for the introduction of a licensing system to be introduced across all construction trades.

This would be in line with the existing gas engineers licence scheme operated by Gas Safe, which means that it is illegal for non-licensed practitioners to undertake such work.

In addition, all construction companies should be registered in order to undertake public sector contracts.

Unite also supports the scrapping of both the government’s Red Tape Initiative which is seeking ‘easy wins’ to scrap European Union regulations as part of the Brexit process and the government’s current ‘one in three out’ policy on the introduction of new regulations.

Since forming a government in 2010, various Tory ministers have continuously attacked and weakened safety laws.

The government is cutting the HSE’s budget, by 46 per cent by 2020 compared to the funding it received in 2010.