Brighton and Hove City Council’s biggest contractor Mears intends to derecognise unions after they refused to sign away the right to negotiate pay and conditions, the GMB says.
The dispute arose earlier this year when Mears, which has the council’s housing maintenance contract, attempted to make eight compulsory redundancies – without, the GMB says, consulting the union.
The GMB says staff affected seemed mostly to be those who transferred from Brighton and Hove City Council in 2010 – and it says Mears also ignored the agreement it inherited then by bypassing unions in pay negotiations this year.
GMB branch secretary Mark Turner said: “GMB members didn’t ask for or want this potential dispute but neither will we shy from doing what’s right to protect the terms and conditions of our members.
“Mears have consistently failed to abide both by the content and spirit of the agreement from the start and have through this and other actions clearly indicated that they don’t have the inclination or will to work with unions on any occasion.”
Gary Palmer GMB Organiser said: “Local managers’ failure to not only comply with the current agreement, but to instead look to bully their way to changes as an alternative to working with us instead is not only unacceptable but has only inevitable as joint unions left us potentially with one choice in reacting strongly to this unfair act if they don’t remove the threat.
“We will of course sit and discuss the matter with Mears, but not with the threat of derecognition on the table, unfortunately, because we no longer trust local management we would expect that commitment in writing from them before we do so.
“Going forward I feel it really is time that the council look to not only cancel the housing repair contract with Mears but to then look to take the provision back in-house. Only then perhaps may staff both be respected and treated fairly with their terms and conditions protected.”
Mears executive director Alan Stone said: “We do have a recognition agreement with unions in Brighton and I would emphasise that we do want to continue our relationship with them.
“We have asked for some points in the current agreement to be updated, as it is almost five years old. It was agreed by both parties in a June meeting that a review was required.
“We very much hope that the unions continue to discuss these points with us rather than the rather strange use of Twitter that they have employed.”
Activists have been calling on city politicians to make a statement over the weekend.
Jason Kitcat said on Twitter: “I am concerned by the apparent breakdown in relations which has led to this.”
He added: “Correspondence I’ve seen suggests there is still a desire to make things work.”
And councillor Ruth Buckley, deputy leader of the council, said in a statement: “We are very concerned about the reported threat of de-recognition of trade unions by Mears Group Ltd.
“Such action represents a major breakdown in industrial relations. This helps no one and we are keen to help resolve it.
“We looking into the situation, and urge both parties to go back to discussions for the benefit of staff, the wider organisation and residents who rely on the services they provide.”
Caroline Lucas said she would contact Mears directly:
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) August 6, 2014
Graham Cox said: “As far as I can tell, and from the general feedback I receive, [Mears] do a pretty good job on the whole. However, they have just sent a letter to the GMB informing them of their intention to derecognise the trade unions.
“As well as being a mistake in my view, I was also disappointed to note in the letter that the regional director could not even do the courtesy of signing it – instead having it ‘pp’ed’, presumably by his secretary.”
Meanwhile, a petition calling on the council to cancel its contract with Mears has attracted more than 100 signatures.
Union members are set to hold a demo at 11.30am on Tuesday 19 August at Brighton Racecourse.