Senior Wishaw & District Housing Association Board member resigns over dispute

Wishaw HAThe former vice-chair of Wishaw & District Housing Association has resigned, criticising the way its chief executive has handled a long-running dispute with workers.

Eddie Mullen said chief executive Niall Gordon has been “heavy handed” and has given the Board “inaccurate” information in relation to a dispute over working conditions.

Some 14 Unite members at the Association including housing officers, senior staff customer services assistants, cleaners, maintenance assistants, and accounts assistants, have taken 12 days of strike action over three separate occasions since September.

According to the union, the Association is looking to take four days’ holiday a year from the staff and to increase their working week by 30 minutes – the equivalent of four additional working days a year.

Mr Mullen also said that the chief executive failed to inform staff about an offer that the Board wanted to make to try to solve part of the dispute.

Wishaw & District Housing Association said it “remains committed” to providing a full service to residents and to working with staff and Unite to resolve the dispute.

A long-standing local housing activist, Eddie Mullen joined the Board of Wishaw & District Housing Association in 1996 and was chair of the organisation from 2000 until 2015.

Mr Mullen said: “I didn’t like the attitude of the chief executive. I found him to be heavy handed, and things got to the stage that some of the information the Board was given in relation to the dispute was inaccurate.”

Niall Gordon has repeatedly told Scottish Housing News that the Wishaw staff get four extra days of holidays in comparison with other associations who are members of the employers’ organisation Employers in Voluntary Housing.

But Mr Mullen said his own research has found that not to be accurate.

“We were told that as far as those holidays were concerned, we were the only Association who gave staff those extra four days,” Mr Mullen said. “But I have discovered that there are other housing associations that don’t follow rigidly the EVH agreement and give their staff additional holidays above the norm.

“As far as I’m concerned the savings made by taking the holiday days off the staff would be nominal and once the holiday issue was resolved, we’d soon be able to settle the other parts of the dispute.”

Mr Mullen said the Board were also given inaccurate information about Wishaw’s staff costs in comparison with other associations.

“The chief executive informed us that our staff costs were between £30 and £40 per unit above other housings associations. If this had been the case then I think that there would be an issue, but I think the figures are high due to other anomalies,” he added.

According to Mr Mullen, his attempt to get a face-to-face meeting between Board members and staff was not agreed by other Board members.

He said: “I sent an email to all my colleagues on the board asking that we have a meeting with the staff and I wanted to facilitate that meeting with no EVH representative, no senior management and no representative of the union. That was not allowed to happen.”

The Unite said Wishaw & District Housing Association also wants to remove a medical insurance scheme from staff.

According to Mr Mullen, the Board had instructed the chief executive to inform staff that the Association was prepared to pay up to 25 per cent of the cost of the scheme – but that the offer was never passed on by the chief executive.

He said: “On speaking to the staff they were very adamant that this offer was never put before him. The chief executive also told the board that Wishaw & District Housing Association was the only housing association that had a medical insurance scheme for staff. I have subsequently found out that – again – that information was inaccurate.”

Unite regional officer, Gordon Casey, said: “We believe Mr Mullen has taken a courageous stand by resigning and highlighting these issues at Wishaw & District Housing Association.

“It is extremely worrying to hear that a meeting between the Board and the staff was not granted, against the wishes and advice of the Board’s own vice-chair. And it is incredible that an offer from the Board to the staff was not passed on by the chief executive.

“Our members have said all along that they don’t believe these cuts will save money – and if they are not about saving money, then we have to question the motives of those trying to push them through.

“All our members want is fair working conditions, dignity at work and some basic respect for their hard work and the sacrifices they have already made.

“This dispute is not going to go away, and I repeat my offer to sit down with the Association to discuss how we can move forward.”

Unite said that over the last three years its members at Wishaw & District Housing Association have accepted their pensions being massively reduced, their wages being cut, their bereavement leave being reduced almost by half, and lunchtime opening to provide a better service to tenants.

All of the union’s members at the Association voted to support industrial action in a ballot in August and Unite has launched a nationwide strike fund appeal to support them.

Brenda Higgins, chair of Wishaw & District Housing Association, told Scottish Housing News: “Wishaw & District Housing Association remains committed to providing a full service to residents and to ensuring that rent levels remain affordable for the tenants of the Association.

“The Association needs to reduce the costs to the organisation to ensure that the long term viability is secured for both tenants and staff.

“The Board of Wishaw and District Housing Association remains committed to working with staff and Unite to resolve this dispute.”

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