St Mungo's chief wanted to stop more staff joining union, misdirected email allegedly shows

Unite says it was accidentally sent an email by Howard Sinclair and now plans a new strike ballot

St Mungo's at work
St Mungo's at work

The homelessness charity St Mungo’s is facing a fresh strike ballot after the union Unite accused the charity’s chief executive of trying to discourage employees from joining it.

Unite said in a statement that Howard Sinclair, who will step down later this year after six years running St Mungo’s, had misdirected an email to a Unite official in which he outlined a strategy to "stop more people joining and erode support" for the trade union.

The email, which was also sent to the PR consultancy BLJ London, was sent after a dispute between the trade union and the charity about alleged changes to staff terms and conditions, which the union claims could lead to job losses.

St Mungo’s has consistently denied that it is proposing changes to staff terms and conditions, and said in a statement that in July it offered the union paid time off for staff to attend union meetings, made commitments on policy implementation and offered formal joint reviews of its entry-level staffing proposals.

The dispute led to a strike ballot in September in which a majority of participants supported strike action, but the ballot failed by one vote to meet the participation threshold to allow a legal strike to take place.

A second ballot will now open on Monday, with voting taking place until 3 February.

Tabusam Ahmed, regional officer at Unite, said: "This email blunder has exposed Sinclair’s true colours. He must now do the decent thing and step down immediately to clear the way for negotiations to restart with a clean slate.

"It is deeply regrettable that Unite has had to re-ballot members. But senior management’s continued refusal to row back on plans to tear up the junior staffing cap agreement, unfair sickness policy and heavy-handed use of disciplinary procedures remains a major sticking point for our members.

"Unite’s door remains open, but we would urge Howard Sinclair to step aside at once so that negotiations can restart and trust can be rebuilt."

St Mungo’s said in a statement that it was "proud to pay client-facing staff some of the best salaries in the sector" and it had already made changes to its policies after receiving feedback from staff over the past nine months.

The statement said: "St Mungo’s is not reducing pay, nor making any changes to staff terms and conditions. We have made it clear to Unite officials that we are waiting to talk about the proposals we made in the summer and there is absolutely no need for them to push their members to strike.

"St Mungo’s formally recognises both Unison and Unite, and we actively encourage our staff to join the union of their choice and participate as they choose.

"As is normal for a charity of our size, we work with a variety of external partners including on legal and media issues.

"St Mungo’s first priority is to protect our vulnerable clients, especially through the winter months. Unite officials’ threat to strike has a direct impact on our organisation and our clients."

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