Tipton and Oldbury leisure centre workers set to strike in 'fire and rehire' row

Leisure centre workers are set to strike again this week in an ongoing row over contracts.

Tipton Leisure Centre is one of the sites where staff are set to strike
Tipton Leisure Centre is one of the sites where staff are set to strike

Staff at Tipton Leisure Centre and Portway Lifestyle Centre in Oldbury are walking out on Friday, over what Unison says are the ‘fire and rehire tactics’ of Sandwell Leisure Trust.

According to the union they will lead to reduced pay and staff having to work under worse employment conditions, after they were ‘forced’ on to new contracts last March.

Four one-day strikes have already taken place over the past nine months in what has become ‘the longest running industrial dispute in Sandwell’s history’.

But Sandwell Leisure Trust, which manages the facilities on behalf of Sandwell Council, says the pandemic has hit the leisure industry hard and it has taken ‘prudent measures’ to manage increased costs with fixed pay awards for a two-year period and no other changes to terms and conditions made or proposed.

The trust says new contracts have already been issued and accepted and it is committed to protecting the jobs of its workforce.

Unison Sandwell branch secretary Tony Barnsley said: “Staff are being fired and rehired against their will and they’re determined to continue their fight against this.

“The trust has £3.5 million in the bank so they can’t justify this as a necessary cost-cutting exercise.

“Unison, along with other unions, also opposes irresponsible management proposals to include Covid-related absences in sickness targets and absence-management monitoring.

“The danger is that staff are so concerned about running up sick days, they may continue going to work when they should be at home isolating.”

“The workers have made it clear they are determined to continue their action and unless the matter is resolved, could mean disruption to this summer’s Commonwealth Games.”

Sandwell Leisure Trust that the Covid pandemic is continuing to have a ‘significant impact’ on the leisure industry pointing to a announcement from Community Leisure UK - which represents the leisure and charity trust sector - that it could take up to 2 years before the industry fully returns to anything like pre-COVID levels of income and attendances.

The trust says Unison lost its earlier mandate for strike action across the whole workforce with the most recent ballot result only affecting two centres.

A spokesperson for Sandwell Leisure Trust said: “The number of employees actually taking part in the industrial action dropped even further on the last strike day to just 6.3 per cent of the total workforce with little to no impact on service delivery.

“More recently it has just been announced that Unison has also lost its national ballot for industrial action on pay awards in England and Wales with just a 14.5 per cent turnout from all its members which is way below the required threshold for action of 50 per cent.

“Sandwell Leisure Trust finds it unacceptable that Unison continues to target two centres to try and further their national campaign in this way.

“No proposals have been made or agreed and it is inaccurate for trade unions to claim otherwise when in fact the trust is actually consulting with them on how to best manage COVID related absence transparently and in good faith.”

The trust says it has followed all Government guidance and has been independently checked to ensure standards are maintained and works in close partnership with Sandwell Public Health teams.

It adds that its sites have also hosted two Sandwell vaccination centres which have delivered 'almost half of Sandwell’s adult vaccinations’.

“The majority of staff now want to focus on the future and work together to build on the success achieved to date,” said the spokesperson.

“All frontline staff have returned from furlough and all facilities have re-opened which is something not all operators in the leisure industry have been able to do.

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

The trust says it intends to open both centres as normal on Friday but customers are advised to check its website, social media channels or call 0300 012 0121 for updates.

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