Sandwell Leisure Trust workers set to strike again over fire and rehire

West Midlands members continue their long-running action over contracts

Staff at Portway Lifestyle Centre and Tipton Leisure Centre are to take a day of strike action on Friday 28 January, in what has become the longest running industrial dispute in Sandwell’s history.

The strike comes as part of a continued fight against fire and rehire tactics used by employer Sandwell Leisure Trust, in the West Midlands.

In March 2021 Sandwell Leisure Trust fired and rehired all 280 staff to remove them from the national NJC negotiating body for pay, terms and conditions. The new contracts have led to pay reductions and worsened employment conditions.

UNISON members at the two leisure centres voted overwhelmingly in favour of continued industrial action over the removal of national pay and conditions.

Four one-day strikes have already taken place over the past nine months – in April, June, August and December 2021.

Picket times for the strike on Friday 28 January are 12:30pm – 2:00pm.

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-19 absences in sickness targets and absence-management monitoring.

“Staff are so concerned about running up sick days, they may continue going to work when they should be at home isolating,” Mr Barnsley said.

Sandwell Aquatic Centre is currently being constructed at the cost of £73million and is due to be a host venue for the Commonwealth Games this summer.

But Mr Barnsley noted: “The workers have made it clear they are determined to continue their action. Unless the matter is resolved, this could mean disruption to this summer’s Commonwealth Games.”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This is no way to treat employees. Sandwell Council must step in to sort out this dispute once and for all and ensure staff are treated properly.”