Chief of St Mungo's calls for union to provide emergency cover during strike

Howard Sinclair says the charity wants an arrangement with the union Unite so it is not forced to close any of its homeless hostels

Howard Sinclair
Howard Sinclair

The chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s has asked the trade union Unite to commit to providing emergency cover to ensure the charity’s hostels can remain open as strike action looms. 

In a letter to Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Howard Sinclair asks the union to take steps to ensure that the homeless people cared for by St Mungo’s are not forced out of hostels and onto the streets because of a strike scheduled for 16, 17 and 18 March.

The strike was called after 84 per cent of the union members at St Mungo’s who took part in a strike ballot last month gave their backing to a walkout.

The charity said 53 per cent of the more than 500 union members at St Mungo's took part in the vote, meaning 241 voted in favour of strike action. 

The union says the charity is refusing to cancel plans to remove a junior staffing cap agreement and fears services will be harmed because higher-paid, more experienced staff would be pushed out and replaced by lower-paid junior staff.

The charity says it is not cutting pay, changing terms and conditions or making people redundant and strike action is unnecessary.

The letter from Sinclair says that despite Unite guidance to provide cover for emergency housing for the homeless during industrial action, the union has not yet committed to doing so for the duration of the St Mungo’s strike. 

The letter says this is because the charity is not a local authority that is protected under Unite’s policies.

“It is simply wrong to differentiate the rights and needs of someone who requires emergency housing simply because of which organisation delivers the service,” Sinclair writes.

“A local authority provision delivered by a charity is still a local authority provision. I hope you would agree that our vulnerable clients should come first: the right to life supersedes the right to strike.”

The letter says confirmation of emergency provision would allow St Mungo’s to factor it into contingency plans to keep as many hostels open as possible during the strike. 

Sinclair’s letter says that the charity wants an arrangement similar to that purportedly agreed with the RSPCA, which is also facing a strike after talks with Unite broke down.

RSPCA and Unite have agreed an arrangement in which no animals cared for by the charity are put at risk by industrial action.

“I understand that Unite the Union officials have provided assurance to the RSPCA that you will ensure any strike at that charity does not impact animals,” Sinclair’s letter says. 

“I am simply asking you as general secretary of Unite the Union to instruct your officials to provide St Mungo’s with a similar guarantee to protect the interests of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The letter also asks for clarification of the union’s policy on coronavirus as the epidemic continues to spread across the UK.

Tabusam Ahmed, regional officer at Unite, said: “St Mungo's workers have tried their utmost to arrive at a reasonable settlement with their employer and have been rejected at every turn. We have been warning the charity that its treatment of staff and the attacks on their working conditions are putting the service to homeless people under severe strain.  

“Our members are fully mindful of their caring responsibilities and will take strike action with heavy hearts, but they are utterly frustrated by management's refusal to work with them on an amicable resolution. It is bad management that has pushed our members to this point.

“We appeal to Mr Sinclair and the board to think again about their approach. The charity cannot function as it should do and serve those who need it while relationships between staff and employers are stretched to breaking point.

“We have been clear that we will not strike if the severe weather emergency protocol is implemented.”

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