'We don't want to strike' say drug and alcohol staff on picket line in pay dispute

Addaction workers and Unison members on the picket line outside Coops Building
Addaction workers and Unison members on the picket line outside Coops Building

Drug and alcohol staff and trade unions embroiled in a pay dispute spoke on the picket line of their disappointment at having to strike.

Addaction employees walked out on Friday and staged protests outside Coops Building in Wigan and Kennedy House in Leigh.

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The striking workers say Addaction has reneged on a promise to match NHS pay rises for similar rehab and support worker roles, with trade union Unison saying the 31 employees involved stand to miss out on as much as £1,000 per year.

Workers were joined by Unison supporters, trade union movement representatives and members of the community on Friday morning as they flew flags, held placards and used a megaphone to demand fair pay and asked passing Wiganers to honk their car horns in support.

The dominant tone from the picket line was one of regret that the row had got to the stage of industrial action.

Unison steward Kathryn Herbert said: "It's unfortunate we had to come to this. We didn't want to have to take dispute action but unfortunately we felt we had no alternative because our employer has reneged on its agreement."

Unison North West regional organiser Paddy Cleary said: "Addaction wouldn't meet with us and any talks were last-ditch once we had formally issued notice of industrial action.

"We always wanted to engage but they have got to be meaningful negotiations. Only lip service was paid. At the first Acas talks no-one had the authority to make any kind of decision. Now we find ourselves outside Coops Building and Kennedy House.

"There is plenty of support which can be heard and that is encouraging for our members, seeing that people are on their side."

The dispute centres on the three-year NHS pay deal the Agenda For Change, which has not been given to Addaction workers.

As the drug and alcohol service commissioned by Wigan Council formerly came under the health service umbrella and most of the Addaction team are ex-NHS staff the feeling of betrayal was clear.

The strike had overwhelming backing, with every single employee who responded to the ballot voting in favour of industrial action.

Lloyd Woodray, one of the workers on the picket line, said: "It's just so disappointing. We've tried every avenue to negotiate with them. It shouldn't have come to this.

"We feel we were missold. We were led to believe we would come across with all terms and conditions and Addaction have historically paid that. They said they would honour the conditions.

"They said they would look after us and value us. A lot of staff here have years of experience. They've got a fantastic workforce here and they don't appreciate it, which is really sad.

"We've had five or six years of pay freezes and austerity but we finally get a pay rise that matches inflation and they don't deliver on it.

"It's not fair and it's the principle of it, but everything is also going up from utility bills and council tax. Everything is increasing and wages just aren't matching it."

Recovery worker Philip Rose said: "No-one wants to be here. We don't want to strike, we want to be seeing our clients because we're in this to do our best for them. We feel let down having to do this.

"It was a choice for many of us to work here. The NHS said it would actively support us to get another job in the NHS but we listened to what Addaction had to say and made the decision that there wasn't that much difference because it was the same terms and conditions.

"We feel they've given us the wrong information about our future."

Addaction said it would work with the trade union and staff to find a solution.

A spokesperson for Addaction said: "We understand the concerns expressed by our colleagues in Wigan and we're doing our best to find a way forward with Unison.

"Our focus in the coming weeks is to keep talking and keep trying to work through the issues in a way that is fair and sustainable for everyone.”