Council must think again about axed payments to leisure staff in Middlesbrough, says UNISON

Low-paid leisure staff have been left on the financial brink after Middlesbrough Borough Council axed top-up payments for workers who have been furloughed, says UNISON today (Thursday).

Around 60 staff, including pool attendants, receptionists and cleaners, will lose out after the withdrawal of the financial support.

UNISON says the local authority must think again over the funding of the staff who will suffer further cuts in wages in the coming months when furlough payments are reduced.

They also face a long wait until they can return to work properly because government advice says leisure centres will be amongst the last businesses to re-open after lockdown.

The workers previously worked directly for the council but were transferred to private company Everyone Active, which now runs Middlesbrough’s leisure services.

Like many workers in the country, they were placed on furlough, the government scheme designed to prevent redundancies by retaining workers on 80% of their salary.

The government has since said the proportion of wages covered by the scheme will drop steeply over the summer.

Leisure staff have now been told by Sports Leisure Management Ltd that the council has withdrawn the 20% top-up payment it has been making, which had ensured there was no financial hit due to the enforced closure of their workplaces.

The Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting of Middlesbrough Borough Council took place at at 4pm. UNISON expects the mayor and chief executive officer of the council will have to explain to the people of Middlesbrough why low paid staff are being subject to pay cuts when they are prevented from working through no fault of their own.

UNISON regional secretary Clare Williams said: “The mayor needs to get behind low-paid workers in Middlesbrough and support those staff who are prevented from working by no fault of their own.

“Outsourcing services means the council cannot absolve itself of a moral duty to support services delivered on its behalf. Councillors must reinstate top-up payments for furloughed workers.”

UNISON branch secretary Paul Thompson said: “For the foreseeable future, staff in leisure services will be left with rapidly shrinking pay packets with no reduction in the bills they have to pay or the cost of putting food on the table. The mayor and the council should reverse this high-handed decision.”

Labour group leader, councillor Matthew Storey said: “The council has a responsibility to ensure that our staff don’t struggle to get by due to coronavirus. Many businesses locally have not topped up the wages of their workers and it was great the Council were setting an example to other employers by doing so. This decision should be reconsidered as a matter of urgency and staff in leisure services should know that labour councillors and UNISON will not stand by whilst their pay is cut. I hope the mayor listens and acts quickly to change his decision.”