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GMB's response to STC industrial action statement

GMB Organiser

January 2024


This week we contacted GMB Union with a list of questions raised by the statement released by South Tyneside Council (STC) on Tuesday 23 January.

Here we publish GMB’s response in full and unedited.

There's a lot of discussion and speculation on social media as to the actual reason for the strikes. Please can you confirm, is it bullying, mismanagement, working conditions or pay?

The issue is that as far back as the pandemic, members have complained about how they are being managed and treated by their direct management. Up until last Spring colleagues have been dismissed for trivial reasons, depending on who they are, our members tell me 80% of them have been disciplined in the last few years, many for nonsense issues.

The Council tried to dispute this by saying only 4 or 5 have live warnings but every week one or two of our members are being investigated. I was given STC, as a GMB Officer, to deal with 2 years ago, and my first meeting with the then Head of HR, Graham Fells shook my hand and his first words were "You haven't come to talk about the Refuse dept, have you?" which highlighted to me that the issues were widely known then.

The issues are many including never being able to finish on time due to an increase in the rounds, the excessive disciplinaries, lack of support around wellbeing, micromanagement etc.

The statement released by STC referred to 7 out of 9 allegations being upheld or partly upheld, can you confirm which allegations these refer to?

We lodged grievances in June 2023 and later in the year they instructed an independent investigator from outside of the Council to conduct the grievance process, investigate and make some recommendations as a response. He began the investigation in September and produced a report which was given to the Council on or around 30 November. On that day we were given a briefing on the report, but we have never seen it, or any details from it, or had a copy of it, which is still a major problem for us.

We were advised that 7 of the 9 elements of the grievance were either fully or partially upheld. When we challenged some of the information they decided to pull the report and asked the investigator to do more work to clarify some of the concerns. We do not know what the outcome of those discussions with the Council were but 2 weeks ago we were given a report written by the Head of Service Stuart Wright that upheld 0 of the 9 allegations in the grievance, and he confirmed he'd went against the outcome of the independent report, as he didn't believe there was any evidence of bullying, and even that the grievance wasn't about bullying and mismanagement.

We've been advised if we share the report he's given us we will not have the right to appeal against it.

The statement also alleges that GMB have walked away from ACAS, is that correct?

Last October the Council asked us to go to ACAS and when we asked if they were going to make an offer of resolution before the independent report was concluded, they said they wouldn't be making any offers outside of the report, which rendered ACAS pointless.

The latest round of industrial was labelled a β€˜publicity stunt’ as it took place during 'Bullying Week'. What is your response to this?

We called the first strike before we realised it was bullying week but found it a happy coincidence, the Councils comments are in poor taste as our members have now lost 4 weeks wages being on strike, which is not a publicity stunt.

GMB are accused of providing β€˜inaccurate information to the public regarding this industrial [a]ction’. How do you respond to this?

All of our communications are designed on putting over the reasons why the members have chosen to take this action, all of which are honest and true. The Council may disagree and have a different point of view, but our members are trying to get their stories into the public to challenge some of the misinformation we believe the council are sharing.

STC lay the responsibility for the ongoing situation fully at GMB's door - STC β€˜remains ready to resolve this through conciliation’. How do you reply to this?

Our members want to see the independent report that the Council are withholding, and they want to be believed, so the bullying stops. If we had that report, I believe that would halt the action until we've seen and responded to it and got into some resolution discussions with STC.

What would bring the industrial action to an end?

In the last 3-4 months we've had around 4 meetings with them, where they've asked us to stop the action, we've asked them to give us a proposal to put to the members to do that, but we've had nothing.

What are your next steps?

Our next action is scheduled for February 20-23 and we'll be again engaging with the public in the corners of STC.