Shadow foreign secretary accuses charity of 'disgraceful' behaviour in pay dispute

Lisa Nandy has given her backing to about 30 We Are With You staff who have gone on strike because of the row

Lisa Nandy (Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Lisa Nandy (Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, has accused a large national charity that is locked in a pay dispute with staff of “disgraceful” behaviour.

The Labour MP for Wigan and former shadow charities minister joined about 30 striking staff at the drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You at a virtual rally today.

The rally took place in the middle of 10 days of strike action by support workers who transferred to We Are With You when the charity took over Wigan Council's drug and alcohol support contract from the NHS several years ago.

The trade union Unison claims management at the charity, which employs 1,334 staff and was called Addaction until this year, have reneged on a pledge to pay employees the same rates as staff in the NHS doing similar jobs. The charity said this was not the case. 

Nandy said the charity's behaviour was “disgraceful” and “completely at odds with its mission, its vision and its values”.

She told those taking part in the strike: “I couldn't support what you are doing more because you are standing up not only for yourselves, but for a service that is properly recognised, properly funded, properly paid and properly supported.

“We will stand with you and we will fight with you until this is won.”

Unison claims the striking staff will have lost more than £230,000 in wages – an average of £7,870 each – by the time the charity's contract with Wigan Council ends in 2023.

Paddy Cleary, Unison North West regional organiser, said We Are With You had “done everything it can to grind staff down and deny them the pay rise promised”. 

He said: “The charity has reneged on a pay pledge, refused to negotiate in good faith and used every trick in the book to break the resolve of staff, but the workers will continue to push for justice.

"To end the strike, We Are With You must keep its promise to match NHS rates and increase the support workers' salaries. It’s the least staff deserve after supporting vulnerable people throughout the pandemic.”

Strikes began in August last year but paused when lockdown started in March.

A spokesman for We Are With You said: "When our staff transferred to us from the NHS in Wigan we committed to the terms and conditions in their NHS contract, which we have done. 

“This commitment did not include the NHS’ Agenda for Change pay award as it was not finalised until after staff transferred to us, following an NHS consultation process that we were not part of.

“We made this decision taking into consideration the legal position, fairness between colleagues, our own organisation's pay and rewards that we apply equally to all staff, and the principles of how we do that.”

The spokesman added that the charity had made “three significant offers” to end the dispute, but claimed Unison “had not shown any willingness to negotiate a fair deal”. 

He said: “Our third offer was a significant one-off payment, which we feel properly recognises our staff’s concerns. In addition, we awarded all staff a one-off one per cent bonus in 2019 and two per cent pay increase in 2020.”

The spokesman said cuts to local authority budgets had reduced funding for drug and alcohol services in recent years and it had found innovative ways to continue supporting people with drug and alcohol issues in Wigan.

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