John McDonnell MP
Thank you, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) on securing the debate. I want to talk specifically about the industrial action taking place in north-west London.
Industrial action across the country is about weekly and daily pay. In my constituency and elsewhere, there are real issues in north-west London around the payment of sick pay. I also welcome the Barnet Unison members to the Gallery today. They are now on their 11th day of all-out strike action. This is the only dispute of all-out action that Unison has endorsed and supported in the union’s recent history. The workers—the Unison members—are employed by Barnet Homes group, an organisation completely owned and managed by Barnet Council. By the way, it is managed by a CEO on an annual wage of £202,000, with bonuses on top.
The dispute is about a low-paid worker who was injured at work, but Barnet Homes refused to pay the first week of sick pay. That was an outrage. People were furious about the treatment of this worker, so his colleagues decided to seek negotiations to respond, to see whether they could get an appropriate response from the management. Management refused and made offers that were completely unacceptable, some of them nonsensical. The workers consulted, discussed, balloted and came out for industrial action, not just for one day but for all-out action.
Hon. Members here who have been on industrial action will know the consequences of that for individual incomes, particularly for low-paid workers. It is an act of courage. I want to pay tribute to the Unison members here today for the courage they have shown in taking action to protect a vulnerable colleague.
I will say this: the message from here today and across the House is that the council and Barnet Homes need to get back round the negotiating table, with a serious settlement to this dispute. I also want to say to Barnet Homes, “Start respecting your workers. Start respecting what they do.” I express my solidarity with the Unison strikers today. If this debate does nothing else, I hope it shames Barnet Homes and the council, if necessary, into settling this dispute.
The disputes taking place at the moment are about not just pay on a daily basis, but terms and conditions of employment, and issues such as the payment of sick pay. So many working people are on the edge, hit by 10% inflation—or 14%, on foodstuffs. In our area of north-west London, house prices and rents are unaffordable for ordinary working people on an average wage. On that basis, I place my solidarity—the solidarity of the whole Chamber, I hope—on the record in support of the Barnet strikers.