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Sandwell leisure centre staff set to hold more strikes

Leisure centre staff in Sandwell are set to hold further strikes over changes to their contracts.

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Portway Lifestyle Centre

Swimming instructors, lifeguards, receptionists and other staff at Sandwell Leisure Trust (SLT) will walk out on Monday.

It will be the third time this year strikes have been held as part of a long-running row over changes unions say will affect the pay of around 280 staff. SLT has been accused of using "fire and rehire" tactics.

Sandwell Council leader Rajbir Singh attacked the company, which runs nine centres on its behalf, over the treatment of staff in June.

But SLT said only seven per cent of staff took part in the last strike.

Unison has urged the authority to help settle the dispute ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, threatening the "embarrassment of strikes" during the Games.

The council has commissioned SLT to run a new £73m aquatics centre in Smethwick, which will be used for the first time at the event.

Unison Sandwell branch secretary Tony Barnsley said: "Employees have been left with no choice but to continue with strike action until the dispute is fixed. The trust needs to see sense and restore employees’ terms and conditions immediately.

“Sandwell Council must also step in and help resolve the dispute. It cannot afford the embarrassment of strikes when the aquatic centre is used for the Commonwealth Games.”

It's the latest headache for Sandwell Council, with bin workers also set to strike at the end of the month due to complaints about its waste contractor.

An SLT spokesman said: "The pandemic has had a significant impact on the leisure industry and the recovery from this will take some time and is uncertain. As many business have needed to do, the trust has taken prudent measures to manage increased costs with fixed pay awards for two years, no other changes to terms and conditions have been made.

"Only one trade union actually received a mandate to strike by their members and those agreeing to strike only represent 16 per cent of the total workforce, only seven per cent of these actually took part in the last strike day.

"New contracts have been issued and accepted by all staff, SLT is committed to protecting the jobs of its workforce both now and in the future by managing its increased costs to ensure its ongoing sustainability."

A Sandwell Council spokesman said: “This is a matter for SLT to resolve with their employees and we hope that they can work with their employees and the trade union to resolve these matters quickly without disruption to our residents.”