Unison union rep John Burgess has written publicly to Labour leader Keir Starmer to ask him to step up and defend 4,000 predominantly black and ethnic minority Tower Hamlets council employees facing inexcusable treatment by a Labour-run council
I am writing to you as a Labour Party member and Unison Rep. Tower Hamlets Council is about to sack and re-engage 4,000 Council workers.
This workforce along with hundreds of thousands of Council workers was on the front-line in response to COVID-19: carers, caretakers, children’s centre workers, housing and homelessness workers, street cleaners, support workers, social workers, teachers of children with special educational needs, teaching assistants, and many others – not to mention the thousands of council workers in non-critical backroom roles who have now volunteered for redeployment to make sure that vulnerable people in our communities have the support and supplies they need during an unprecedented crisis.
Just think about that for a moment. You, along with the rest of the Country, stood outside your home clapping for key workers many of whom were referred to as unskilled workers by this Tory Government. As the Leader of the Labour Party you know clapping does not pay the bills, it does not pay the rent and it does not protect key workers and their families from COVID-19.
On Monday 6 July, 4000 employees of Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets Council will be sacked. The Council is doing this so they can impose new contracts that will reduce existing employment rights. These substantially worse terms and conditions were all overwhelmingly rejected in individual ballots conducted by their unions.
UNISON my own union nominated you for the Leadership of the Labour Party. 1.3 million UNISON members know were you were chosen by UNISON. COVID-19 has shown that our workplaces, our communities, our public services – all of which were brutalised by Tory Austerity – were unable to cope with the devastation it unleashed on workers, their families and their friends.
We know that in particular BAME workers were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. We now have very clear 7 recommendations made in the “Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups.”
These recommendations must be actioned if we are serious about addressing the brutal inequalities that blight our workplaces, our communities, our public services. For a Labour Council to ignore these recommendations in relation to their workforce by pursuing sack and re-engage would be a disaster and impact negatively on Labour BAME activists and voters alongside grassroots Labour Party members. It is clear this Tory Government know no other way out of COVID-19 but to push more Austerity.
We know the very heroes the Government itself clapped are to be targeted by Austerity. This Government even voted down your motion for weekly testing for NHS and Care workers, something I have been crying out for on behalf of our members here in Barnet.
I speak from experience of organising in workplaces in the public, private and voluntary sector as a union rep. The Labour Party must stop attacking workers and fighting the unions that are doing the right thing. This is not a new issue. I have seen this bitter fighting here in Barnet in 1998 and most recently in Durham, Birmingham, Derby, and now in Tower Hamlets.
If Tower Hamlets Council sacks and re-engages 4000 workers, they will be joining other employers like ASDA and British Airways who have been subject to widespread condemnation across the Labour movement including many Labour MPs.
I am proud UNISON is standing in solidarity with the local branch right from the top by our general secretary Dave Prentis down to the hundreds and thousands of other UNISON members. UNISON is demanding that the imposition of new contracts is suspended and instead a new period of negotiations is resumed.
There is still time for you to intervene and signal that the Labour Party will always stand in solidarity with the workforce and their families. Not to intervene in this shocking attack on key workers will reverberate across the very working-class communities you are working in, in order to restore trust in the Labour Party.
Pick up the phone and work with UNISON. End this madness and show another future is possible for the many not the few.
John Burgess, Labour Party member and Barnet Unison Rep (personal capacity).
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