Unite members fight on – Victory to the St Mungo’s strikers!


“It is a bleak irony that homelessness charity workers are having to strike for liveable pay when the latest figures show that the number of new people sleeping rough in London this spring and early summer rose by 12%.”

With St Mungo’s staff in the midst of an indefinite strike, a Unite the Union member explains why strikers have no choice but to keep fighting for fair pay

As we reported two months ago, homelessness workers at St Mungo’s voted in May for an unheard-of four weeks of strike action. This followed eighteen fruitless months attempting to negotiate with senior management, who claimed a pay restoration for frontline staff was unaffordable, but refused to share their accounts or explain where several million pounds of the charity’s money had gone.

Today, St Mungo’s workers remain at the vanguard of a veritable strike wave now sweeping the country. If their initial month-long walk-out was unprecedented, their journey since has been equally so; these key workers now find themselves leading the sector’s first indefinite strike, with negotiations moved back to ACAS due to CEO Emma Haddad’s volatile behaviour in unsupervised pay talks, and the Unite national negotiating team now involved.

The circumstances leave them little choice, however. There is no end in sight to the cost of living crisis, with the actions of government and the Bank of England in raising interest rates only deepening this disaster for ordinary working people. It is a bleak irony that homelessness charity workers are having to strike for liveable pay when the latest figures show that the number of new people sleeping rough in London this spring and early summer rose by 12% compared to the same period last year.

While senior management at St Mungo’s have inured themselves against the worst of this hardship with ever-ballooning pay packets entirely out of step with their employees’, frontline staff face the very real risk of becoming homeless themselves.

It is against this background that the increasingly-corporatized charity’s continuing failure to resolve this dispute must be considered. As a growing number of senior staff and trustees are brought in from the private sector in the name of fiscal and business expertise, a working knowledge of homelessness has fallen by the wayside as a hiring criterion. It is a strange state of affairs indeed when CEO Emma Haddad and her close colleague Sean Palmer, both from the Home Office and both lacking any experience in the sector, are amongst the least-unqualified for their positions in the highest echelons of St Mungo’s today.

It is stranger still that despite the wealth of expertise such trustees, directors, and senior managers are touted to bring to the charity, they have overseen a catalogue of costly errors. A disastrous (and ultimately aborted) change in rent administration seriously damaged a £50million income stream at a time of professed financial crisis, while £12 million in cash and reserves has seemingly disappeared.

The latter has formed the basis of St Mungo’s continued plea of poverty – a lie that has once again been debunked by Unite’s forensic accountant. Frontline workers have long been told that St Mungo’s needs to pay well in order to recruit well in senior management, but it is hard at this point to see what tangible benefits this frontline wage-subsidisation of management roles has yielded.

As St Mungo’s senior management float ever further out of touch with the realities in which their highly-skilled workforce deal, however, union members are more determined than ever that they can and must win this dispute. With Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham visiting picket lines and her top national team now on the case, St Mungo’s already-destabilised executive now faces a finely-tuned leverage campaign calculated to bring even the most intransigent of employers back to the negotiating table, and the longest-running disputes to appropriate resolution.

Building on ten weeks of inspiring action and solidarity that have already seen cracks appear in the executive and three agencies pull their staff out of St Mungo’s projects, Unite is now calling on Labour councillors to take the next step. Councils who work with St Mungo’s must hold management at the charity to account – a joint scrutiny-style meeting of Labour councils calling on the CEO to give evidence would be a good start.

All Out for Fair Pay – fight for the right to strike. 3 Thomas More Street, London, EW1 1WY – assembling 12pm.

Featured image: A St Mungo’s picket held at St Mungo’s: Bondway, Lambeth. Photo credit: Patrick Foley/Labour Outlook archive

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