Shelter staff in unprecedented two-week strike

Striking Shelter workers say they can’t afford rent and are haunted by prospect of homelessness themselves

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Over 600 workers at the housing and homeless charity Shelter begin an unprecedented fortnight of strike action today (December 5) in a bitter dispute over pay.

Shelter’s management has imposed a three per cent pay increase, in 2022 which has left many of its own staff being unable to pay their rent leaving them haunted by being made homeless.

The imposed pay deal is a huge real terms pay cut of 11 per cent with the true inflation rate (RPI) now standing at 14.2 per cent.

The dispute has become increasingly bitter as the charity’s management has refused to enter into meaningful negotiations with representatives of Unite over this year’s pay deal and has instead sought to impose one-off payments and real terms pay cuts for the next 16 months.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “It is unforgivable that workers at Shelter find themselves actually being haunted by the prospect of being made homeless. Shelter has sufficient reserves to pay its hardworking and dedicated staff a decent par rise but it has chosen not to.

“Our members at Shelter will receive Unite’s complete and unyielding support in their fight for a better deal.”

The strike action begins today (December 5) and will end on Friday, December 16.

Peace talks collapsed at the conciliation service Acas on Thursday (December 1). At the talks, management refused to increase the pay offer for 2022, instead proposing a pay increase of four per cent for 2023/24 with no further pay increase for staff until April 2024, which amounted to a further substantial pay cut of at least 10 per cent for its staff.

The total pay cut Shelter’s over two years amounts to 21 per cent. With inflation still rising, the real terms pay cut will go higher over the next 16 months when the next pay review is due in April 2024.

When Unite’s reps presented testimonies of their colleagues who are worried about being evicted or are unable to keep their house warm with a newborn baby and have mounting debt, management withdrew its offer.

Unite believes that Shelter is fully able to make a fair pay offer. Its reserves last year stood at around £14.5 million, substantially higher than its target reserves of £8.9 million.

Commenting on the decision to go on strike, one member of Shelter’s staff said, “At the very base level, absolute bare minimum, those working for a housing charity shouldn’t be experiencing housing insecurity as a result of being unable to pay rent.”

Another added, “I’m a single parent. I’m now in overdraft every month. I go around switching my lights off. I have turned my boiler down. I get stressed when the kids’ school wants me to pay for another school trip. The best acknowledgement my employer can give me for all my hard work is decent pay.”

Unite regional officer Peter Storey noted, “Unite’s members at Shelter are entirely dedicated to their roles and are taking strike action as an absolute last resort.

“This dispute has been caused by the heartless, hypocritical attitude of Shelter’s management who have refused to enter into proper negotiations. Shelter needs to take an urgent reality check and return to the negotiating table with an offer that meets our members’ expectations.”

Shelter’s offices affected by the strike action include its head office in Old Street, London, and offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, Blackburn, Norwich, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Leeds, and Sheffield.

By Barckley Sumner