Leisure centre workers in Lewisham are set to strike unless concerns over alleged unpaid wages and reductions in working hours are resolved.

Unite members at the borough’s four centres, run by council contractor Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), voted by 94 per cent for strike action, having been balloted between August 27 and September 27.

Unite claims wages owed have gone unpaid, as has annual leave, redundancy payments have been miscalculated, and workers have had their hours changed unilaterally, partly due to the closure of the Bridge Leisure Centre.

The union says GLL has already had a "reasonable timeframe" to address the issues raised.

GLL claims that just 18 union members out of a total workforce of 158 participated in the stike ballot, and that Unite has failed to respond to requests for clarification of the issues. 

News Shopper: The Bridge leisure centreThe Bridge leisure centre

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “For far too long Greenwich Leisure Limited has had a poor reputation as a bad and exploitative employer.

"Unite will throw all its resources into this campaign to ensure GLL treats all its employees with dignity and respect.

"All this employer has to do is pay the workers the money they are owed."

The centres affected are Wavelengths Leisure Centre, Forest Hill Pools, Glass Mill Leisure Centre, and Ladywell Arena.

The Bridge Leisure Centre never reopened after the first lockdown as Lewisham Council deemed it too expensive.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We had a constructive meeting with the employers following the ballot.

"A way forward has been agreed, including strengthening the recognition agreement so that future problems can be resolved earlier.

“But let us be clear – a constructive meeting only took place once our members made clear that they are prepared to strike.

"We are giving GLL a reasonable timeframe to rectify all the issues – otherwise strike action remains very much on the cards.”

GLL previously claimed Unite violated an agreement between the two parties not to ballot their members before attempting to resolve their concerns directly.

The organisation, which runs over 250 sport and leisure facilities and libraries on behalf of local authorities in London, further claims changes in hours are an unavoidable consequence of the pandemic, rather than choice.

A spokesperson for GLL said: “Following what we considered to be a constructive and positive meeting with a UNITE representative last week, we were disappointed to read the statement issued by the Union yesterday.

"We believe it to be misleading and does not represent a true and accurate position. 

"In fact the UNITE Union balloted its members without any meaningful or formal discussion with us about the issues, which is not in accordance with an agreed disputes procedure we already have in place.

"Once they balloted they also failed to respond to our requests to clarify their issues. At a meeting last week with UNITE they subsequently raised additional issues relating to the pay of a small number of staff. 

"We are investigating these new claims.

"UNITE claims that 94% of its membership in Lewisham voted for strike action.  In reality, just 18 UNITE members participated in the strike ballot. That is out of a total workforce of 158.

"GLL is a worker-owned charitable social enterprise, with staff as part of our governance structure. We respect and value our staff.

"It is therefore upsetting to read such misleading comment. We have already written to congratulate Sharon Graham upon her appointment as General Secretary and invited her to meet with our Chief Executive with the aim of forming a positive working relationship going forward. 

"We look forward to receiving a response and to have the opportunity to discuss matters for a better understanding and future.

"Since October 2020, GLL has successfully worked in partnership with the Council to reopen public leisure services in Lewisham and is pleased to see large numbers of customers coming to use these vital community facilities”.

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