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Family ‘lost and neglected’ as Aberdeen council housing row escalates with four-day strike

Union members picketing outside Marischal College in Broad Street, Aberdeen, last month.
Union members picketing outside Marischal College in Broad Street, Aberdeen, last month.

A furious row between council housing staff left at “breaking point” and Aberdeen City Council will escalate today – as around 40 workers go on strike for four days.

Unite Scotland leaders describe the walk-out, which begins at 8.30am, as a “major escalation” in a dispute which has already caused employees to down tools for days at a time.

The dispute comes as the council’s housing team faces mounting challenges due to rising rent arrears and homelessness in the Granite City.

Outstanding council rent totalled £7.9 million last year, compared to £2.64m in 2015-16.

Aberdeen family ‘lost and neglected’ by council housing department hit by strikes

And it comes as one council tenant tells Aberdeen Journals her family have become “lost” in the dispute – compounding concerns after an eight-month fight to get into their new home.

Melanie and Jordan Thomson requested an emergency move across the city to escape a feud with their neighbours.

With four children and another due in under a month, the Sandilands Drive pair are still waiting on access to a property they were promised 15 weeks ago.

Sandilands Drive, Aberdeen.

Mrs Thomson said: “Staff are more off than they are on just now and they are not helping families that need it.

“It has been terrible, we are not being taken seriously despite facing threats against our safety.

“We have been lost and neglected in the strike and by the council, especially given we were made a priority by police for getting a move.

“The strike action has left us in the lurch and we’ve been given every excuse in the book.”

Initially, the Thomsons had requested a four-bedroomed home but pushed for a three-bed as their situation deteriorated, though now they claim they have been left with only two double bedrooms and a box room for their soon-to-be family of seven.

“We are not asking for a four-bedroomed mansion, just space and an escape from an intolerable situation,” Mr Thomson added.

They have been told if they turn it down, there will not be another home immediately available – and they would have to go through another round of needs assessments when their baby boy arrives.

Council made concessions in union talks to avoid further strikes of housing staff

The escalating industrial action was launched over a planned reorganisation of the department, which union chiefs claim would amount to merging two jobs – of housing officers and support officers – into one.

But council bosses said the change was prompted by independent auditors and public feedback – and disputed it would bring cuts, lower pay or job losses.

Instead, they promise investment to remove routine tasks, increase staff numbers and reduce the load placed on each worker.

But negotiations, ongoing since May, have broken down between the local authority and union officials, with those at the Town House accused of “stubbornly refusing” to engage with the process.

However, council sources have revealed top officers offered more than a dozen concessions in recent talks, claiming it was “unfortunate” Unite had offered no compromise in return.

Workers will picket the council’s headquarters at Marischal College through until Saturday morning at 8.29am.

Despite concessions, council accused of ‘stubborn refusal to engage’

Unite industrial officer, John Boland, said: “The four-day stoppage represents a major escalation in the dispute our members in the housing services department have with Aberdeen City Council.

“The workers face unprecedented pressures due to the pandemic, and the proposal to merge job roles will add to that pressure, and provide a worse service to the people of Aberdeen.

“We had hoped the strength and determination of feeling among our members would get the council back to the negotiating table but they have stubbornly refused to engage with us to positively resolve this dispute.

“Unite’s members are prepared to continue this fight not only for themselves, but also for the people of Aberdeen because it is they who will ultimately suffer from these proposed changes.”

Greig Court and Hutcheon Court, Aberdeen. Around 40 council housing staff are to go on strike for four days as a row over changes to their roles escalates.
Greig Court and Hutcheon Court, Aberdeen. Around 40 council housing staff are to go on strike for four days as a row over changes to their roles escalates.

A council spokeswoman reassured our readers housing services would not be impacted by the strike.

And she revealed the council had still been negotiating as recently as last week, adding: “During our ongoing conversations, at least 14 concessions or commitments have been offered to Unite the Union but unfortunately there has been no reciprocal compromise offered in return.

“We continue to be open to further dialogue and hope that Unite the Union will reconsider their position.”

However, the Thomsons from Sandilands Drive claim damage has already been done since they began their push for a move last November.

Mrs Thomson said: “We have suffered a great deal left where we are. It’s having a severe impact on all of us, our mental health is suffering.

“They have messed us around for so long now, I am at my wit’s end trying to be the backbone of the family and get settled in before my baby arrives.”

The spokeswoman said the council continued to work with the family.

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