Drug and alcohol rehab workers in Wigan and Leigh are now on strike – here’s why

Rehab workers who support people with drug and alcohol problems in Wigan and Leigh started a 10-day strike this week over a disputed promised pay rise.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 8:25 am
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 8:28 am
We Are With You staff on the picket line

Workers for the charity We Are With You will hold socially distanced picket lines and a virtual rally with speakers including Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who supports the action.

The trade union members have taken sixteen days of strike action previously over pay, but postponed all industrial action during the initial lockdown period.

They have since won their battle for Unison to be recognised by their employer as their collective representative following a decision by the Central Arbitration Committee, which forced the charity to negotiate with the support workers. The company had so far refused to negotiate with the trade union.

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But they are still frustrated by their employer’s “failure” to settle the dispute.

The dispute arose after ex-NHS staff whose jobs were transferred to the London-based charity were told that pay rises in the health service would be matched.

But in 2018, they say a pay deal awarded to their NHS colleagues was not matched. The staff at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation service – that has been commissioned by Wigan Council – have been in a dispute with their employer since, and say they stand to lose £230,000 in wages between them.

The dispute has been further fuelled after the charity spent £140,000 to change its name from Addaction earlier this year, according to charity sector publication Civil Society Media.

Unison says the recent rebrand cost the charity more than it would cost to settle the dispute with a pay rise for the 30 members who are now on strike.

The staff, who are not allowed to speak to the media without prior permission from their employer, say the dispute over pay has been “soul-destroying”.

One employee who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service anonymously said it is a “race to the bottom” at one end of the organisation.

He said: “We do a really difficult job. We’re not expecting to be paid in a super tax bracket. We’re expecting to be paid the same as colleagues in the NHS.

“A lot of our staff have mental health issues due to stress. It’s affecting our mental health, our daily lives, our financial situation.

“In real terms, our wages have gone down and down.”

We Are With You said it has made three offers to end the dispute, including a “significant” one-off payment which “properly recognises” staff concerns.

It also awarded a bonus for all staff in 2019 and a two pc pay increase in 2020.

But it claims the commitment to keep the terms and conditions in NHS contracts did not include the NHS Agenda for Change pay award, which was not finalised until after staff transferred to the charity.

A spokesperson said: “We made this decision taking into consideration the legal position, fairness between colleagues, our own organisation’s pay and rewards that we apply equally to all staff and the principles of how we do that.

“We have now made three significant offers to end the dispute, but Unison has unfortunately not shown any willingness to negotiate a fair deal.”