Housing care workers strike against bullying bosses

by Nick Auvache, Unite organiser

Care workers at Hestia LIFE in Hounslow, west London, who provide independent living support to vulnerable people, are striking on 12 and 13 December. The strike is over pay, workload and travel expenses, as well as union recognition.

Hestia picket line
Hestia picket line
Photo: Unite LE1111 Housing Worker

Unite the Union members are not only fed up with low pay, they are also fed up with unmanageable caseloads. Hounslow LIFE is one of Hestia’s larger services and supports over 600 of the borough’s vulnerable adults.

Hestia has a deeply committed workforce in Hounslow. To go on strike is a big step, but they are angered by management’s refusal to listen to their reasonable concerns, or to engage with them and their chosen representatives.

Hestia refuses to talk

The conciliation service ACAS has approached both Unite and Hestia. But while Unite is happy to talk, Hestia management has refused to engage in conciliation.

Unite Regional Officer Steve O’Donnell commented: “Our members believe that Hestia management have taken an arrogant and bullying approach for a number of years. For example, after their pay claim was submitted, they were sent threatening letters saying that even talking about union issues could lead to disciplinary measures. It is quite possible to resolve the issues in this dispute and to avert a damaging strike, but the first step must be negotiation.”

Hestia management have refused to negotiate over a number of important issues. When Unite members complained that they were paid less than the London Living Wage, despite the organisation’s public claim to pay this minimum standard, management refused to talk. Only after a Unite campaign involving publicity, the intervention of the local authorities that fund Hestia schemes, and the Living Wage Foundation, was this matter resolved.

When Unite wrote to management to inform them of the strike dates and Unite’s intention to fight for recognition, their response was to immediately sign a recognition agreement with Unison. Management claims that Unison understands the constraints placed on them! Unite’s proud record of fighting for workers at Hestia shows that we first and foremost recognise the constraints placed on workers.

Labour council

Unite members have lobbied Hounslow Labour council to intervene. Unfortunately, they have so far declined to do so. However, Unite at Hestia has received significant support from workers in Hounslow, in particular from the local government branch of Unison.

Hounslow Unison Secretary Bill Reed said: “We have given our full support to the Hestia strikers and will be with them on Monday 12 December. It is unacceptable for the council to fund an organisation that bullies their staff and refuses to recognise their chosen union. They deserve to join the numerous successful disputes run by Unite.”