Branch Secretary :

Out for eleven weeks: St Mungo’s striker interviewed

Striking since April 22nd


The property services team at St Mungo’s have been on continuous strike since April 22nd. They took strike action after the organisation failed to address serious allegations of management bullying and failed to deal with a formal grievance properly. Management have followed up by suspending a rep who took out a grievance against bullying in the team – one of the charges against him is that distressed was caused to senior managers by the suggestion that they were bullying!



How’s morale been in the eleventh week of strike action? What's been keeping you going?


Beckie: Three months of striking with such minimal contact or acknowledgement from St Mungo’s management and CEO has been incredibly disheartening. It seems as though they would rather allow for their clients’ repairs to go unfixed than actually address the issues at hand. As you can imagine, morale has taken a real kicking, especially in recent weeks - but knowing we are all in this as a team has kept us going. The picket line is always lively and it’s great to be there in person, fighting together for a common cause.


You started at St. Mungo's earlier this year, right? Before you joined the organisation, what was your sense of the work culture here?


Beckie:  I joined St Mungo’s in January this year, hopeful I was joining a caring and compassionate organisation. It’s a charity, so caring is what’s expected, right? Within my first couple of weeks, I answered the survey sent around by Steve Douglas with glowing praise. I was brand new, and my first impressions of Mungo’s were very positive. Honestly now I just feel guilty that my answers contributed to organisational propaganda that Mungo’s has a zero tolerance to bullying, when our team's experiences show this isn't at all the case.


How did you make the decision to join the strike action?


Beckie:  About one month into my time at St Mungo’s I found out that Unite was supporting colleagues in my team trying to address long-standing issues with higher-level managers creating a toxic and unsupportive work environment. I did my own research and the more I saw and heard, the more apparent it became that there was a serious bullying problem that needed addressing urgently. I joined Unite to stand with and support my colleagues. We never wanted industrial action, but every single other avenue was exhausted so we had no choice. I was concerned of the risks this posed to me as a new staff member as I was (and still am) on probation, however I was not about to just sit by and abandon my team.


Tell us again, for the record: what are the strikers’ demands of senior management?


Beckie:  Our demands are very simple. We want our colleague who brought up the initial grievance, and was consequently suspended, to be reinstated. We also want an independent inquiry into the grievance matter raised. 


After eleven weeks of strike, do you hold any hope that management will make meaningful concessions?


Beckie: We honestly didn’t expect management to ignore our demands for so long, especially given how straightforward they are! I would love for management to make meaningful concessions, but given their response (or rather lack of) so far, I am not hopeful we'll see any significant offers from them without an all-out general staff strike.


What’s next for you?


Beckie:  I feel it’s important to share that the past three months have taken a massive toll on me from an emotional standpoint. I have been so deeply affected, that the idea of returning to a work environment where I cannot feel safe or supported really frightens me. It is with great sadness that I have chosen to leave Mungo’s, as a result. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to work for an organisation that refuses to address such serious issues as bullying and harassment.


The strike raises deep concerns about St Mungo’s ability to handle bullying in the organisation. Nearly half Unite reps face formal HR processes concerning their own employment and a survey conducted by Unite found that 68% of respondents had experienced management bullying.


Management have refused to engage on the issue on the grounds that they do not see bullying as a collective issue – the basis that they refused to engage with Unites concerns about their involvement in illegal deportations of rough sleepers some years ago.


Hopes had been raised that the new CEO who arrived last year would bring a reset in industrial relation, but these have been dashed by the continuation of managements belligerent approach displayed in this dispute.


We have recieved support from the Labour movement and from St Mungos clients.


Unite has received messages of support from councillors in local authorities that fund St Mungo’s services. We will be pushing for a serious review of governance to consider the role of the organisation’s leadership in relation to bullying. We believe that many St Mungo's services remain excellent, but the behaviour of senior management runs the danger of undermining the culture and presents a growing safeguarding risk. St Mungo's should consider the recommendations contained in ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ produced in response to events at the Mid Staffs NHS trust.


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