Drug and alcohol support workers in the borough embroiled in a major pay dispute with a national charity have once again escalated the row by announcing a week of strike action.
Addaction employees in Wigan and Leigh will down tools next Monday (November 4) to begin five days of industrial action.
It is the fourth round of action in the dispute over what unions and employees say are broken pay promises by Addaction.
The staff were previously employed by the NHS but the service, commissioned by Wigan Council, was transferred to the national charity, which has come under fire for its handling of the dispute.
Workers continued to receive pay rises in line with those of NHS employees and were given assurances by the organisation’s managers this would continue into the future.
But when the one per cent pay cap in the NHS was removed from April 2018, Addaction refused to implement the promised wage rise. The decision, which the trade union Unison says will cost each support worker around £1,000 per year, was taken without any consultation or discussion with staff.
The biggest escalation in the dispute so far comes as there is change at the top in Addaction, with its chief executive Mike Dixon leaving to take on the same role with the Liberal Democrats.
That has been heavily criticised by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who has offered her full support to the striking workers, and by Unison, which openly questioned Mr Dixon's willingness to listen to the employees and reach a positive outcome.
Ms Nandy said: "I spent last week with Addaction workers in Wigan who have almost been broken fighting for the pay and conditions they were promised. No charity can serve the most vulnerable by breaking its staff.
“Now their CEO is off to take a job with the Lib Dems. I’d like to know if the Lib Dems are interested in the committed, skilled workers who are the difference between life and death for some people struggling with addiction?
"If so, why have they taken this decision now, in the middle of this dispute, when the CEO hasn’t even had the courtesy to meet with workers in Wigan and Leigh to resolve this issue?”
Unison North West regional organiser Paddy Cleary said: “We wish Mike Dixon all the best in his new role and sincerely hope he treats Lib Dem party staff with more respect and honesty than the Addaction staff in Wigan and Leigh.
“Our experience of working with Mr Dixon has not been positive. He refused to meet with the workers in Wigan and Leigh, who saw pay promises broken by national Addaction decision makers, including Mr Dixon.
“These workers give an invaluable service to the community, providing front line support at a time when their services are more in demand than ever. They are pillars of our community and deserve honesty and fair treatment.
“We hope to work with the next chief executive to find a swift conclusion to this dispute.”
Mr Dixon, who has been chief executive of Addaction since May 2017, said: "It’s been a hard decision to leave Addaction. I have continually been inspired by the difference we make, the approach of our staff and volunteers, and the courage of the people we work with."
The dispute involves around 30 staff working at the Coops Building in Wigan town centre and at Kennedy House in Leigh.
A spokesperson for Addaction said: "As a charity, we’re committed to providing the best possible support for people who use our treatment services, whilst also providing our staff with a fair wage and good working conditions.
"This is true for all our services, from Cornwall to Wigan, to the north of Scotland. Cuts to local authority budgets have significantly reduced funding for drug and alcohol services in recent years, meaning this can be a tough balance to achieve.
“We understand and empathise with the concerns expressed by our colleagues in Wigan and we're doing our best to find a way forward together.
"We’re committed to trying to work through the issues in a way that is fair and sustainable for our staff, the people who use our services and the local community.”