Tony Greenstein | 17 March 2020 | Post Views:

St Mungo’s Strikers Need Your Support in their Battle against a Dickensian Employer

What Kind of Homeless Charity is it which Works with the Home Office to Deport Homeless Migrants? Step Forward Howard Sinclair – their £160,000 union busting CEO

Today saw the first of a 3 day strike by Unite workers at St Mungo’s, Britain’s largest homelessness charity. Workers in Brighton, Bristol and London joined the strike after an 83.7% yes vote in a strike ballot.

4 of the 6 pickets allowed

In my experience, as a former UNISON Convenor for the Voluntary Sector I can testify that some of the worst employers are in the charitable and voluntary sector. They are some of the most devious and dishonest employers. Both my major whistleblowing cases were against charities and housing associations.

Union busting boss of St Mungo’s –  Howard Sinclair on £160,000 – he currently has coronavirus – one can only hope he does as his staff do and take time off sick as holiday pay

Despite playing on the fact that they don’t make a profit (instead they just have highly paid Executives like St. Mungo’s Sinclair) they hae the same managerial attitudes in addition to preying on workers’ sense of loyalty and service obligation in order to extract unpaid work and service.

Strikes in the voluntary sector are very rare and the fact that St. Mungo’s staff voted by some 6-1 to strike testifies to the behaviour of their management. Not that you have guessed this from the lyingdefence of St. Mungo’s management.Braving Coronavirus I joined the early morning picket of St. Mungo’s at Isetta Square in Brighton. There I met a large group of young, mainly female strikers with strike teeshirts bearing slogans such as

Val Mainstone from Defend NHS speaking at the rally

‘Punished for being Sick’‘We Support Not Deport’ ‘St. Mungo’s – Stop the Race to the Bottom’.

When setting out I looked online for reports on the strike and I alighted on the Torygraph, a paper not usually known for its sympathy for the homeless, the unemployed or anyone else down on their luck. Today however was different. Their headline pulled no punches.  They were moved to tears by the plight of the homeless. It was all the fault of ‘hard left’ Len McLuskey: ‘Homelesses charity accuses Len McCluskey of putting lives at risk with strike’

It reminded me of all those ‘newspapers’ which wept crocodile tears over ‘anti-Semitism’ whilst employing neo-Nazi Katie Hopkins, spewing her venom about refugees being cockroaches.

Who would have thought that the Telegraph, which has supported benefit cuts and sanctions, council house sales and the abolition of rent controls whilst championing Thatcher’s scrapping of security of tenure for tenants, could suddenly be overcome with concern for the homeless? It was the equivalent of Paul being blinded by the light on the road to Damascus.

‘Britain’s biggest homelesses charity has accused the hard left union boss Len McCluskey of putting vulnerable lives at risk by pressing ahead with a strike during the coronavirus pandemic.’

As is normal with the Telegraph there was no attempt to put the strikers’ case, so you won’t be surprised.

The Guardian’s coverage was more sympathetic although its sub-head ‘UK’s biggest homeless charity criticises timing of three-day protest during pandemic’ bore shades of its anti-Corbyn alliance with the Tory press. But at least it covered the scandalous use of St. Mungo’s outreach workers in passing on information about homeless migrants to the Home Office. Indeed immigration enforcement staff actually accompanied some outreach workers in London before the High Court ruled the policy of deporting homeless migrants unlawful.

Tony Greenstein and Liz holding the Trades Council banner

Matt Webb of the Trades Council speaking

At first St. Mungo’s simply lied and denied everything. It was only after had been found out that it was forced to apologise.  Notwithstanding this the practice still continued. As the Public Interest Law Centre stated:

“This apology is long overdue. The findings of St Mungo’s internal review have vindicated the work of migrants and homeless rights campaigners who have spent years trying to hold the charity to account for collaborating with immigration enforcement in the detention and deportation of homeless people,”

“St Mungo’s has admitted misleading the press, campaigners and, most importantly, rough sleepers about the way they worked with the Home Office. The damage done in terms of trust may well be irreparable

If CEO Howard Sinclair had any integrity he would have offered his resignation for the lies and deception. Instead St. Mungo’s PR prefers to ignore uncomfortable truths by simply not mentioning that they operated in the best of Gestapo and Stasi traditions. Howard’s £160,000 salary clearly outweighs trivia like ethics. 

You won’t be surprised that a racist charity which informs on those it is supposed to be helping is also vehemently anti-union. St. Mungo’s threatened to go to court to obtain an injunction against Unite for a leaflet which invites people to join the strike picket. Legislation limits the numbers to 6 and by inviting other people to join it they are therefore acting unlawfully. You would have thought that a homeless charity had better things to do with its funds.

Sinclair is not only a reactionary boss but an incompetent one too. He accidentally sent an email to a Unite official, as well as the employees of BLJ London, a PR consultancy, in which he wrote:

No need to change tac (sic). Our strategy should be to…stop more people joining and erode support.’ 

Demonstration of workers at St Mungo’s is forced to stand on the opposite of the road to avoid breaking anti-union legislation on having 6 pickets as a maximum

Sinclair was running a union busting operation. This however didn’t find its way into the Telegraph or Guardian. Despite this St Mungo’s have the audacity to claim that ‘We actively encourage our staff to join the union of their choice’ –

Unite held two ballots. The first failed by 1 vote to reach the 50% threshold that anti-union legislation demands. After the revelations of union busting the second ballot easily reached the threshold and there was a massive 83.7% vote in favour.

Other issues in the strike include Junior Staff Capping and Sick Pay.  St Mungo’s is trying to reduce the number of experienced, higher paid staff in favour of junior staff who are less well paid. In order to do this they have torn up previous agreements. What employer wants to sack employees with experience other than one for whom providing a service to clients means less than cutting costs.

Staff told me of the ‘reign of terror’, their words not mine, in which people are afraid to go off sick because there is a very rapid escalation from Stage 1 to 3 in which people who get sick get dismissed. So when they get sick they book it in as leave. You won’t learn that from St. Mungo’s Press Releases

UCU speaker

At the rally today at the Clock Tower in Brighton’s centre there was a good turnout with representatives from UCU, who themselves have been on strike recently, CWU, also balloting for strike action against Royal Mail, UNISON, Unite and the Trades Council.  It was unfortunate that despite being advertised as speaking Kemptown Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle wasn’t there and nor was Caroline Lucas, the Pavilion Green MP.  No one of course would have expected Peter Kyle, ‘Labour’ MP for Hove to attend since he is to the right of most Tory MPs.

CWU speaker

Anti-union legislation must be broken and defied

What is clear is that the problems that have faced the CWU postal workers and now St. Mungo’s workers are the Thatcherite anti-union legislation which ties the workers hands behind their backs. Bosses can do whatever they want but workers have their hands tied behind their backs if they want to respond. Strike ballots have to reach a threshold. If they walk out on unofficial strike they can be legally dismissed. The strike mandate only lasts 6 months. As the CWU’s recent ballot, which achieved a 97% yes vote showed, the Courts will step in to prevent the democratic will of workers on the most absurd of legal technicalities. The High Court used an obscure provision in the legislation to rule that ballots can’t be filled in at work.

Tomorrow and Wednesday are further strike days for St Mungo’s. People will be gathering at Brighton’s Clock Tower at 11 am. 

Please be there!

Below is an article from Counterfire on  what led up to the strike.

CWU speaker Workers at St Mungo’s are beginning strike action after management continues to prioritise cost-efficiency over services or working conditions

There is now a complete breakdown of trust between executive team, and the frontline workers in particular, many of whom are on low pay, and have felt they have been left with no choice other than too withdraw their labour at significant personal cost. To have their collective voice ignored and minimised in the way it has been, with the board undermining and attempting to discredit the union membership, has been the ultimate insult in a series of insults.

Since the last strikes in 2014, which were over an attempt at cutting pay for frontline staff whilst at the same time increasing pay for senior management, the contrast between the ethics of the organisation’s leadership and the workers has grown ever more pronounced. This decay was epitomised by the sharing of information with the Home Office which ultimately led to the unlawful deportation of rough sleepers. St. Mungo’s executives were repeatedly warned about this unethical practice by their staff via Unite, however, they denied sharing any data. The leadership team have since been forced to admit they had misled the press, campaigners and rough sleepers about having collaborated with the Home Office, proving themselves to be the absolute antithesis to those working on the ground.

Controversies such as this and the squandering of £42,000 of charity money on a communications company in an attempt to discredit the union have contributed to a general distrust of the motives and decisions being made by the executive team. Within this context, the material issues that have driven this dispute – a harsh disciplinary procedure that has disproportionately affected BAME workers; a punitive sickness policy and attempts to change the junior staffing cap – have left staff concerned for their jobs, their terms and conditions and importantly for the quality of service provision for vulnerable people.

Britain’s biggest homelesses charity has accused the hard left union boss Len McCluskey of putting vulnerable lives at risk by pressing ahead with a strike during the coronavirus pandemic.

he email states that there is “no need to change tac (sic)”. It adds:  “Our strategy should be to…stop more people joining and erode support”.

The union has accused Sinclair of discouraging staff from joining the union and anti trade union tactics. The charity said staff are actively encouraged to join the union of their choice. 

Recently St Mungo’s has faced a number of controversies, including issues surrounding the charity’s outreach teams sharing information with the Home Office. Delay by the executive team at St Mungo’s meant that one of the charity’s outreach teams failed to cease sharing data with the Home Office without consent, an internal review by the charity revealed.

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Tony Greenstein

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