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Workers are cheered by support from passing members of the public as they hold a socially distanced picket line during the strike in early July.

Well done, John Biggs: now grasp this chance

IT’S TIME TO TALK! After months of insisting that it was the end of the road for negotiating over new contracts for Council staff, Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor John Biggs has agreed to meet Unison to talk about the ongoing dispute.

The rapprochement came after Union General Secretary Dave Prentis wrote to John Biggs, asking him to resume talks with the union – and after the union had held three-day strikes on three occasions. It is thought that this was the first such industrial action since the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was set up in 1965, indicating just how strongly those involved felt about the new contracts. The actions were warmly supported by members of the public.

The dispute centres around new terms and conditions which the leadership and management of Tower Hamlets Council wanted the workforce to adopt. While managers and leaders have argued that they new contracts do not amount to a big change for most workers and even contain some benefits, the trade unions have listed a long string of detriments arising from the changes. The package was named “Tower Rewards” by management – but dubbed “Tower Robbery” by trade unions.

Although Unison is the only trade union to date which has taken strike action, all the trade unions which organise Tower Hamlets Council workers have condemned the changes. Nonetheless, or possibly as a result, John Biggs allowed the new contracts to be imposed on the Council workforce at the start of July. His move is similar to one adopted by British Airways, which has also imposed new and detrimental contacts on its workers – in a move which has been condemned by Labour Leader Keir Starmer.

The original strike ballot which Tower Hamlets Unison conducted before the Coronavirus lockdown has now expired, and Unison had been considering whether to hold a second ballot to allow its members to take further strike action. The union has now welcomed John Biggs’s approach and has suspended consideration of a second ballot as a gesture of goodwill.

Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor John Biggs now has a chance to end this strung out battle with the Council’s workforce and get on with running the Council at a time when the people of Tower Hamlets need Council services more than ever.

Local activists who believe that the Tower Rewards package was misconceived are urging member of the public to email John Biggs and encourage him to find a way forward and to email or text Tower Hamlets Labour Councillors asking them also to encourage the Mayor to work with the trade unions to end the dispute.

•Contact details for Executive Mayor John Biggs and Labour Councillors:
Contact details

•Read more about Tower Rewards:
Tower Rewards

•Read more about the Biggs Administration:
Executive Mayor John Biggs

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