Around 170 Unite housing maintenance workers at Mears, and joint venture company Manchester Working Limited (operated by Mears), are currently on strike in Manchester reports Ali Treacher. Mears provide services to Local Authorities and Registered Social Landlords and deliver in excess of 6,000 repairs every day to over 1,000,000 homes nationwide.
Their dispute started over pay differentials which result in workers being paid up to £3,500 less than colleagues for undertaking the same work. This is coupled with Mear’s proposal to introduce a new contract which increases hours, introduces flexible working and requires the greater use of technology. Mears is also seeking to introduce a ‘productivity procedure’ which has been dubbed as a ‘sackers charter’ and is trying to pressurise the workforce to accept poorer conditions regarding sick pay and vehicle policies.
Colin Pitt. one of the shop stewards at Mears, also highlighted in an interview with Ian Allinson, that this also has wider implications for social housing workers in North West as they are being used as a bench mark in pay for other maintenance workers. Colin highlighted the disparity of wages between themselves and the R&M workers at One Manchester, a ALMO providing social housing in the south of the city.
On 15 May, the workers began three day rolling strikes, however this has now been escalated to a four week walk out which started July 8 and is due to end on Friday August 4.
The workers held a series of demonstrations and pickets targeting both Northwards Housing and Manchester City Council; who have a stake in Mears / Manchester Working Limited and awarded them the contract in January. The workers had contacted the council before this was awarded to voice their concerns and to warn of the repercussions.
In June the Mears workers demonstrated outside Manchester Central Convention Complex (GMEX) while the Charted Institute of Housing’s Housing 2017 conference was being held. A session titled ‘Manchester Housing and Devolution’ was led by Des Morris, managing director, Manchester Working, Mears Group and Robin Lawler, chief executive, Northwards Housing. This obviously highlights a worrying trend in the promotion of maintenance providers who attack workers terms and conditions moving forward with the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project.
On 17 July, the Mears workers organised a demonstration outside Manchester Town Hall where union officials, Labour councilors and senior Mears management met to discuss the dispute to try and reach a settlement. There have been reports that union members jeered at the Labour councilors when they entered the building.
Negotiations were set to continue from Thursday 20 July, as of yet there has been no news of a resolution.
In the light of the disaster at Grenfell, the strike highlights wider concerns around council repairs being done on the cheap with considerable profits being siphoned off by private companies. Unite members have visited housing association residents at the tower blocks in Collyhurst, North Manchester, to speak with them about their concerns about Northwards use of ‘value for money’ contracting and the cladding which was fitted in 2014/15.
Unite’s regional co-ordinating officer, Andy Fisher, said: ‘This dispute would never have occurred if housing services hadn’t repeatedly been split up and sold off. Not only is this inefficient and expensive it sowed the seeds for the present dispute. We hope that the new deal for devolution in Manchester will result in housing services being brought back in house under democratic control.”
To support the strike :
Send cheques payable to UCATT UD.393 Manchester 1st Branch, sent to Andy Fisher, Unite, 2 Churchill Way, Liverpool, L3 8EF, or online to account 46034412 sort code 60-83-01.
Send messages of support to Colin Pitt via firstname.lastname@example.org