Union says St Mungo's trustees should urge management to avert strike action

Trustees of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s have been urged to encourage senior managers to return to the negotiating table in order to avert strike action.

In an open letter to Robert Napier, chair of St Mungo’s, and the rest of the charity’s trustee board, representatives of the union Unite call on the board to seek further talks in order to put an end to a long-running dispute over terms and conditions.

The move comes as the union expects to announce on Monday the outcome of the latest ballot for strike action among its 500 members at the charity.

A previous ballot for strike action, held in August and September, failed because one too few staff participated in the vote.

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

The union says it also has issues with the charity’s "draconian" sickness and disciplinary policies.

The charity denied it was seeking to alter employee terms and conditions and that staff would be made redundant.

In the letter, Unite staff representatives at the charity, who have opted to remain anonymous, say it is a shame that staff are being balloted over strike action for the second time in less than six months.

“It shouldn’t be this way,” the letter says. “Contrary to what chief executive Howard Sinclair has said, this decision has not been taken because Unite is hell-bent on striking – far from it.

“It has been taken because we have faced an intransigent employer, unwilling to address issues of very serious concern for our members.”

The letter says the union is disappointed that the charity’s senior management team are “more interested in whipping up division and destroying trust” than in working with it to find a sensible solution.

“We are also disheartened by the chief executive’s hostile handling of the dispute,” the letter says.

“This is between staff and senior management and is best resolved through face-to-face negotiation.

“It is not a publicity stunt, and the chief executive should not be spending donors’ money on hiring an expensive London PR firm to trash the union or, to use his own words, ‘stop more people joining and erode support’.”

The union said it wanted Sinclair, who will step down in the autumn after six years in the role, to stand aside earlier so negotiations could restart.

Nobody from the charity was able to respond to the Unite letter on Monday afternoon. 

The charity has previously rejected claims that it is reducing pay or making changes to terms and conditions.

It said earlier this month that it was "proud to pay client-facing staff some of the best salaries in the sector" and had already made changes to its policies after receiving feedback from staff over the past nine months.

“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,” the charity said at the time.

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