UniteLive stories of the year - Landmark agreement

Unite signs national recognition agreement with housing and social care provider Mears

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Every day over the Christmas period, UniteLive is running a different story from our top stories of 2023. Today, we look back at how Unite achieved a landmark national recognition agreement with housing and social care provider Mears.

Unite signed a landmark national recognition agreement on Tuesday (October 31) with housing and social care provider Mears, which employs more than 10,000 people nationally.

The agreement will mean that the outsourced local government building workers, who mostly work in maintenance and repairs of social homes, will benefit from union recognition and collective bargaining agreements for the first time. Unite will also have unfettered right of access to Mears workplaces to organise and recruit.  

UniteLive spoke to Unite Mears convenor Craig Patterson, who explained how Unite worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure this unprecedented agreement.

“When I took over as convenor two years ago, my first aim was to improve industrial relations with the company because we have high union density within the branch – about 90 per cent,” he said.

Craig sought to develop a relationship with Mears’ CEO David Miles, who he praised as “very accessible”.

“Any issues I raised with him he deals with directly, and we have one-to-one meetings every three months, which will now increase now that the agreement has been signed,” Craig noted.

An initial agreement was ready to be signed last year, but Craig and Unite national officers for construction and local authorities, Jason Poulter and Clare Keough respectively, wanted to rewrite the agreement and start from scratch.

“We thought we could substantially improve on the previous agreement,” he said. “We took it to the CEO and the HR director, who came back with many recommendations such as including a no-strike clause.

“We went back to them and emphasised that taking strike action is a human right – and right that has been massively eroded by anti-strike legislation,” he added. “What’s more, strikes are our members very last resort – they don’t take action lightly.”

After more than a year of back-and-forth negotiations, which Craig admitted at times “tested my patience”, Unite and Mears emerged with a deal that will signal a new dawn for thousands of outsourced workers employed by Mears across the country.

Craig noted that the agreement has come at a time when Unite has made great strides for members’ pay and conditions over the last 18 months, thanks to the work of a Unite Mears combine which was established several years ago.

Some of the conditions improvements Unite has secured include five extra days holiday, enhanced sick pay for up to ten weeks, and enhanced family friendly policies.

This year, Unite also won big for members on pay — in addition to a national pay award of £2000, workers received an average of a 14 per cent pay rise on top.

Now with the new recognition agreement in place, which makes Unite the only recognised union at Mears, for Craig, it’s only onwards and upwards from here.

“Our next challenge is to increase density,” he said, adding that with the support from the combine and organising, he hopes to establish sustainable branch structures to not only increase membership density, but maintain it for the long-term as well.

Unite national officer for local authorities Clare Keogh hailed the agreement and explained its significance.

“This agreement is so important, given the numbers of outsourced local government workers currently without the benefit of union recognition and collective bargaining agreements,” she said.

“Crucially, this new national agreement gives us right of access to Mears workplaces so that we can recruit and organise and ensure workers are protected,” Clare added. “Mears covers different types of local government contracts, including housing maintenance and also social care – a sector where greater trade union power and representation is urgently needed.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

Photo caption: From left – Unite researcher James Lazou, Mears CEO David Miles, Unite Mears convenor Craig Patterson, Unite national officer for local authorities Clare Keogh, and Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter