Hundreds of staff at homeless housing charity St Mungo’s took the difficult decision to withdraw their labour after a year long dispute and take strike action last week. The charity’s staff are dedicated and work with some of the most vulnerable homeless people.
St Mungo’s started as a small group of people who decided to do something to help the people they saw sleeping rough on the streets of London. They started by going out, talking to people, offering food and what assistance they could. Today, it is the largest charitable housing association working in the field. This was during the time of ‘Cathy Come Home’, the acclaimed BBC play which sparked a public debate about homelessness in the late 1960s.
The staff want proper sickness pay and procedures and to end the “race to the bottom” on terms and conditions.
Unite regional officer Tabusam Ahmed said: “The last thing our members want is to cause hardship to vulnerable homeless people. But after more than a year of having their demands to be treated more fairly ignored, they’ve had enough.
“This was a resounding vote against a heavy-handed and bullying management style.
“Our members’ demands – that management respect staffing agreements, staff terms and conditions, and end their draconian use of discipline and hostility towards their chosen trade union – are reasonable.
“The time has come for management to negotiate and to rebuild trust.”
A recent Employment Tribunal, Ms Leigh Andrews vs St Mungo’s concluded that victimisation had taken place. It is against this background, that Unite the Union began negotiations and this has led to strike action.
In Lewisham, striking staff and their supporters were invited to demonstrate outside the St Mungo’s New Cross Assessment Centre in the morning. Trade Unionists expressed their solidarity. The BAME Forum of the Deptford Labour Party were present alongside the Lewisham TUC Trades Council and local Councillors.
Lewisham Councillor Alan Hall said: “St Mungo’s workers are on the front line of the housing crisis. If we don’t support them, they can’t support the homeless – this is vital work.”
“Howard Sinclair the CEO needs to regain the trust of staff as these are the people who built St Mungos.”
Rallies were held outside Hackney Town Hall and Camden Town Hall later that day where speakers included Jim Kelly, Chair, London Labour Party.
The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP was kept in the Commons due to the coronavirus crisis but he tweeted his solidarity.