Women’s refuge workers in London are fighting a £6,000 pay cut.
In the refuges where I work as a health visitor most of the women workers are themselves survivors of abuse, and have worked for years in the refuge setting, with extensive training and experience.
Recently, the refuge service was put out to tender by the local council and the contract awarded to Hestia, a housing charity founded in 1970, whose stated aim was to provide a service for London’s vulnerable homeless population.
In this case, at the first meeting with the refuge staff after transfer (seven women working across five refuges), Hestia announced that they would have to accept a £6,000 a year pay cut, reduction in holiday pay, increased working hours, and reduced sick pay, and that these changes would take place in a month.
One of the workers commented that for an organisation committed to preventing homelessness they were going a good way to making her homeless.
The seven women are united in refusing to accept the new conditions. They refused individual meetings and insisted on joint consultation. They are being supported by Unite, and Hestia have been forced to extend the period of consultation.
The tendering-out process sections workers off into tiny groups. Without a generalised response across Hestia’s housing services it is difficult to fight.
In every refuge where Hestia have won the contract it has attacked the terms and conditions of the workers in the most heavy-handed way. It is known for paying below the rates offered by other specialist domestic violence organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid.
But women who have survived domestic abuse themselves and developed a strong refusal to be bullied are now resisting.