UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis joined the May Day virtual rally called by Tower Hamlets Unison on Friday – and pledged that the national union would support local workers fighting “Tower Rewards”.
Tower Rewards – re-named “Tower Robbery” by the unions which bitterly oppose it – is a plan to change the terms and conditions of staff who work for Tower Hamlets Council. Many of these staff are the front line staff working in caring professional and other key areas whose work is vital in the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet the new pay and conditions package would leave them with fewer rights at work and, in many cases, less pay as allowances are slashed. Local trade union members voted to take strike action to indicate their opposition to the changes.
In a move which appears to have been taken from the Margaret Thatcher Book of Industrial Relations, Tower Hamlets Council – under the leadership of the Labour Executive Mayor John Biggs and its Chief Executive – have decided to impose the new contracts on staff. This was due to happen in April. Just before the Lockdown began, the trade unions offered to suspend the looming strike action so that staff could pull together and support local residents during the Lockdown. The offer was rejected by the Executive Mayor, but at the eleventh hour he agreed to postpone the imposition of new contracts until July.
Addressing the rally, Dave Prentis acknowledged May Day was different this year – but still important. It was a day on which the labour movement, transcending all borders and boundaries came together to fight for recognition and decency.
He went on to talk about the 1.3 million UNISON members who are a huge part of the workforce which delivers public services. Public sector workers are currently being hailed as the “army fighting for us” – but they have not always been so valued, and over the last decade they have suffered under austerity.
Prentis told the Zoom gathering that the public clapping in appreciation of NHS workers which takes place at 8pm was appreciated – but that show of support did not make workplaces safe. He accused the Government of speaking hollow words rather than taking action to protect public sector workers – and promised that Unison would fight to make sure workplaces were made safe. He said that Union would take on the Government and employers in defence of its members.
Workers needed to see a public inquiry once the pandemic was under control, Prentis said – one that would look into the way in which public sector workers had been treated and at the inequality within our society. Out of that, he hoped, would come plans to build a more equal society: going “back to normal” meant building a new “normal”, not going back to the discredited old ways of a society based on the “haves” and the “have nots”. He pledged that Unison would be in the forefront of that fight for a “new normal”, based on equality in society.
The Unison General Secretary ended his contribution by noting that on May Day workers came together to show solidarity with those in struggle. It was in these concluding remarks that he specifically promised that he and Unison would stand by Unison members in Tower Hamlets as they fight the Tower Rewards package.