Glasgow Lighthouse staff take collective action to fight for pay

By Catriona Stewart

Columnist/reporter

Glasgow Lighthouse staff take collective action to fight for pay

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AGENCY staff working in a famous Glasgow venue have taken collective action against their employers to fight for fair pay.

Workers at The Lighthouse, a Glasgow City Council-owned venue, are employed by two agencies - leaving them in a precarious position when the venue closed due to coronavirus lockdown.

But the team banded together to push for better wages, despite claims employers tried to divide them and offer them "unsuitable" alternative work.

One staff member said: "At the beginning, there were one or two members of staff who were trying to prod the Lighthouse to find out what was going on in terms of pay.

"We started looking at our contracts and could see that they offered us really no protection at all so we started to speak to one another and someone contacted Better Than Zero to get their support.

"Our contracts do not say how long these assignments last for so if we're not given any more shifts then we have no recourse to ask for pay.

"I've worked at The Lighthouse for years and those of us in that position still can't understand why we are employed by agencies and not the council."

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The staff were told on March 18 that the building was to shut and they would only be paid scheduled shifts until Sunday, March 22 but no more.

This left them without work and without income.

As agency workers they were not entitled to access the government's job retention scheme, which sees furloughed workers paid 80 per cent of their wages.

While arguing that the council should take them on as staff so they could be furloughed, the staff were also offered alternative positions in the council but said they were not given clear answers to questions about training and health and safety.

One agency refused to deal with the staff as a collective, saying they would have to negotiate their wages on an individual basis.

Now they have been told their wages will be based on January to March's pay packet - but this goes against government advice and, they say, leaves them out of pocket as the start of this year was a particularly quiet.

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Government advice for employers says wages should be calculated as the amount earned in the same month last year or an average of all monthly earnings from the last year.

The staff member said: "We are still looking for clear information and the pay dispute has not yet been resolved but it has certainly been better to work as a collective and we will continue to be represented in this way."

Sherene Nelson-Cruddas from Better than Zero said: "Agency staff at the Lighthouse have proved the power of precarious workers during this pandemic.

"When Covid-19 hit, neither Glasgow City Council nor the agencies they use would take responsibility for supporting Lighthouse staff, taking advantage of recurring temporary contracts to shirk their responsibility to furlough workers.

"They attempted to divide workers with mixed messages, offered unsuitable 'volunteer' alternatives instead of furloughing, and at first refused to respond when workers took collective action to get their due.

"But workers remained united, continued to present their challenge, and overcame the bad will of their bosses to open negotiations for a reasonable furlough agreement.

"In fighting for their due, they have shown how to act in a way that can be emulated by agency workers across Scotland."

A council spokesman said: “The council’s focus has been in putting place an effective means to ensure that our temporary staff, agency staff, casuals and those whose regular hours might differ from contract receive the pay that they reasonably would have expected to receive.

"In addition, we are not processing this at 80 per cent (the Government’s furlough funding amount) but if we were to closely follow the rules on the making of furlough claims as insisted upon by this particular claim, that is what we would be doing.

"It should be understood that this would then be to their financial detriment.

"Ultimately, the people in this particular group have not been left without income - rather that the income that they have earned over the last three months has been secured.

"With regard to being available to work to deliver council services, this does not seem unreasonable given the many thousands of council staff working hard to do that all across the city, and where hundreds have volunteered to retrain to do alternative jobs to support this work."

ASA Recruitment did not respond to correspondence from the Glasgow Times but a spokeswoman for Brightwork said: "Brightwork, part of the Staffline Group, does not provide comment regarding specific customers and their associated workers."