Unpaid 'career break'?

Leisure giant GLL asks staff to volunteer to go a year without pay

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Plans by social enterprise leisure giant Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) for its permanent staff to take an unpaid career break until at least April 2021 has led to renewed calls that its council services are taken back ‘in-house’.

The ‘back in-house’ demand has come from Unite, which is campaigning for the ‘top five’ local government outsourcers, including GLL, to ‘open the books’ to verify their claims of financial hardship due to Covid-19.

Unite estimates that GLL has over 50 local authority contracts and employs 14,000 staff nationally – and that about 70 per cent of these workers are on casual and zero hour contracts.

Unite fears that not enough permanent staff will volunteer for the so-called ‘unpaid career break’ and that will mean drastic cutbacks in the work offered to those on casual and zero hour contracts.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said,“Our strong belief is that there will be a lack of permanent staff volunteering, so those on already low-paid zero hour contracts will not be given sufficient work, if any at all.

“The knock-on effect will be that staff left in the leisure centres will expected to pick up the extra work, and that redundancies and closures will follow regardless.

“Local authorities must take action now to take these contracts back in-house. The ‘unpaid career break’ letter from GLL CEO Mark Sesnan, follows a begging bowl tour of the UK by GLL asking local authorities to bail it out,” he added.

“Councils, including Hackney and Greenwich, have handed over council taxpayers’ money to keep GLL afloat. In the case of Greenwich, this amounted to £800,000, along with a five-year extension to the contract.

“This is a clear and obvious case of good money being thrown after bad,” Kasab went on to say.

“Mark Sesnan is now asking staff to volunteer to go a year without pay – disguising this as a ‘career break’ is the thinnest of excuses for anticipated job losses.

“The reality is that the company is in real financial trouble – this is why we have demanded previously that it ‘opens up the books’ for inspection. GLL is still stonewalling our request,” he continued.

“The answer is simple and straight forward – take the services back into public ownership. Local authorities must not wait until the company goes bust with all the unemployment and disruption this will cause to council services. Instead, they must act now to save jobs and much-appreciated public amenities.”

So far, the bosses at APCOA Parking; street cleaning outfit Continental Landscapes; leisure management company Fusion Lifestyle; GLL; and waste management firm Urbaser have all ducked Unite’s requests to open their books.

Unite estimates that, in total, these five companies hold more than 70 local authority contracts and employ at least 16,500 workers in the UK.
Unite is using the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act to strongly remind the five companies that it is obliged to provide the union with information needed for collective bargaining purposes.

By Shaun Noble

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