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Sandwell leisure centres at risk of closure due to pay dispute

By George Makin | Sandwell | News | Published:

Council-run gyms and swimming pools which reopened in Sandwell last week could now shut again because of a pay dispute.

Wednesbury Leisure Centre

Unions say they will ballot staff at the town’s nine leisure centres on strike action unless Sandwell Leisure Trust (SLT) improves its offer of a one per cent wage increase over the next two years.

SLT, the company which runs leisure services on behalf of the council, had proposed a two-year pay freeze to help overcome losses which mounted when Sandwell’s nine leisure centres shut during lockdown.

The proposal was overwhelming rejected by staff in a consultative ballot.

Unions say workers should be paid in line with council workers, who have currently been offered 2.7 per cent.

In a letter to the Trust’s senior management, officials for the GMB, Unite and Unison warned: ”Instead of entering a bitter dispute with staff, we ask you to reconsider your position, drop any attacks, and work with the trade unions to campaign for the funding you need to stay afloat. It is the council that has the funds to plug the financial gap from the loss of income.”

Conflict

Saying the proposed pay rise would only save £97,000 in the first year, they add: “This is nothing compared to the support we understand you need to get through the crisis. Is it really worth creating conflict with staff and the trade unions?

“If you seek to plug any financial gap by worsening pay, terms and conditions, it will only create a bitter, resentful workforce in SLT – the very same staff that work so hard to make SLT the success it has been.

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“Unless all the proposals are dropped the trade unions will begin formal industrial action ballots, that given the size of the consultative ballots, we expect to win. If we must fight, we will fight to win. We will also campaign for Sandwell MBC to directly run the leisure centres.

Ash Rai, chief executive for the Trust, said SLT had to ensure its financial variability following Covid-19.

“Trade Unions requested the Board to consider a revised proposal. The Board considered this request and has made a revised proposal of one per cent pay award for the next two years and is now entering a period of formal consultation with staff.

“The proposed measures will support the future sustainability of the Trust which is absolutely prudent in light of the current financial crisis the leisure industry faces. We hear everyday of organisations having to make very difficult decisions in order to safeguard and mitigate against the impact that Covid-19."

George Makin

By George Makin

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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