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Labour is stripping staff working in the capital of their London salary weighting unless they go back into the office three days a week – a move unions have described as a “heavy handed threat”.
The announcement, sent via email to hundreds of employees just before leader Keir Starmer’s first party conference, has been criticised by Unite the Union who are directing staff to challenge the party if the additional pay is taken away without their consent.
An email sent from Labour’s ‘People and Talent Team’ to staff on 22 September, with the subject Return to Office Working, read: “For those colleagues who work in London, Parliament or the London/South East regional offices you need to bear in mind that eligibility for London Weighting depends on working for at least 3 days of the working week (or the pro-rated equivalent for part time colleagues) in a London office.
“If your working pattern doesn’t include this arrangement then London Weighting will be removed.”
Party staff have faced a tumultuous few months following general secretary Dave Evans’ announcement – first reported in The Guardian – that Labour was going to have to shed up to a third of its workforce by axing 90 jobs, and undergo a restructure due to a dire financial situation following significant legal payouts relating to anti-Semitism allegations. Compulsory redundancies were avoided when a voluntary scheme saw 80 people take a financial offer.
But for those continuing to work for the party in London, the news they will have their salary weighting removed unless they work from the office for three days a week has been described as a “punch to the guts”.
A Unite spokesperson said: “Unite have made it clear to the party this is heavy handed and an unnecessary tactic as an employer. They should be looking to encourage staff back to the office, not threatening them.
“We are advising our members to contact their reps and raise individual grievances for unlawful deductions of wages should they find their London weighting payment has been stopped without their prior agreement.”
Upset Labour employees believe it is not possible to automatically remove the weighting, as it is a change to the terms and conditions of a contract.
However, it is understood that the additional money, which is given to staff to support the higher cost of living in London and travel costs was always conditional on people attending work in the capital in person. The email said there had been consultation with trade unions but some staff said it read like a “fait accompli”.
On the weighting being stripped for people who will work from home, the email said Labour has “consulted the trade unions over these plans and we will continue to engage with them”.
The email also said that the party’s top priority was ensuring everyone is safe and the important work of the party is delivered to a high standard.
Party members are incensed by the email, and have said it was a particular kick in the teeth considering Evans then used his recent party conference speech to thank staff for their “dedication and hard work, that hasn’t faltered for a second”.
Eyebrows were raised when Evans claimed he was committed to winning elections “ward by ward, street by street, voter by voter”, considering there will be fewer staff left to try and achieve that.
Despite being appointed by Keir Starmer in May 2020, and endorsed by the party’s ruling body the National Executive Committee, his position as General Secretary was only confirmed at party conference in Brighton after a delegates’ vote.
It passed 59% to 41% and followed considerable upset among members following the suspension of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who still hasn’t had the whip restored in Parliament so he sits as a Labour MP.
A Labour staffer said: “I wasn’t the only one who felt sick and angry listening to Evans’ hypocritical rant at conference as he tried to cling to his job, boasting about things that might actually be possible if he wasn’t axing so many staff from HQ and the regions.
“After everything we’ve been through, people who have decided to stay are now being told their pay could be cut. What a punch to the guts.”
Labour has said they will listen to staff concerns, and will keep their position under review and continue to respond to developments for as long as the pandemic continues.
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