NuGen Properties

Wirral maintenance workers strike over asbestos fears

Workers at social housing landlord Magenta Living are in dispute over new working practices that they fear heighten their risk of  exposure to asbestos.

The 100-or-so repair and maintenance workers, who are members of the Unite union, help to look after 13,000 properties, mainly in the Wirral.

According to the union, Magenta Living has imposed a change of policy when dealing with asbestos. Previously, the workforce was trained to stop work if they identified asbestos. If it required removal, specialist contractors were brought in.  But under the new policy the workers are now expected to handle the asbestos themselves.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The actions of Magenta Living are deplorable. It is trying to force our members to undertake work they are not properly trained for, which risks their lives and that of tenants.

“Unite never takes a backward step when it comes to ensuring the safety of its workers and our members at Magenta will receive the union’s complete support.”

The workers begin strike action today – Monday 6th February – for a week and then will be on strike every other week, with the final week of the initial industrial action due to start on Monday 17th April. In total, the workers are planning 30 days of strike action.

Unite regional officer John Sheppard said: “Strike action will inevitably lead to severe delays and disruption to tenants’ homes. However this industrial action is being taken as a last resort as Magenta Living is introducing policies that risk the lives of its staff and tenants. Magenta Living has been given every opportunity to resolve this dispute through negotiations but it has refused to do so.”

A Magenta Living spokesperson responded: “This is a dispute relating to health & safety working practices when dealing with low-risk asbestos materials and follows consultation with the trade union on this issue for over two years. We see colleague safety as a priority and have developed robust procedures with an independent industry expert who has confirmed this is the safest way of working around low-risk asbestos materials. These procedures follow Health & Safety Executive guidance, and we believe they mirror industry best practice widely adopted across the housing sector and amongst the construction industry nationwide. We have also employed an industry specialist to help address the perceived risk amongst our workforce including more advanced training.

“We are deeply saddened that this strike action is planned despite us continuing to hold discussions throughout the week with the offer of additional remuneration, further training, help and support.”

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