UNISON issue challenge to Labour controlled Barnet Council over strike breaking


Today 23 May 2024 UNISON issued a serious legal letter to the Chief Executive of Barnet Council John Hooton regarding a decision made by senior officers to procure the services of an organisation called Imperium Solutions to procure these workers to operate LBB’s mental health duties and triage functions.

UNISON in their letter go on to say:

“These are functions of LBB and we assume that LBB will remain accountable for their delivery. It is therefore not the case that LBB is outsourcing a service; rather, it is procuring workers to provide the exact services normally provided by its own workers during a period of strike. Therefore, should LBB procure strike cover as described in this letter, it would be procuring the services of an employment business, Regulation 7 of the Regulations would be breached and a criminal offence would be committed under the Employment Agencies Act 1973. As explained above, this would likely also mean a number of ancillary criminal offences are committed by LBB.”

The letter goes on to state:

“UNISON’s view LBB may be guilty of the common law offence of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a criminal offence, conspiracy under section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 or encouraging the commission of a crime under sections 44 and 45 of the Serious Crime Act 2009. Your use of agency workers during a period of strike may also be unlawful as a matter of public law. Any employment businesses who provide workers to LBB in breach of Regulation 7 may also be exposed to civil liability.”

Barnet Council has in its means the power to end this dispute. In negotiations they have already stated that it would be “easier and cheaper” to agree to UNISON demands for recruitment and retention payment for mental health social workers across the three teams. But someone at Barnet Council is preventing this dispute from happening. News from our membership is that more staff have handed in their notice and there are likely to be more unless someone takes responsibility for this mental health catastrophe and meets UNISON halfway to resolve the dispute.

Today our members have now taken 46 days of strike action with another 36 days to take unless this dispute is resolved.

Last night the Prime Minister announced the date of the General Election, 4 July 2024. Whilst the Labour Party is preparing to win all three seats across Barnet, our members with the support of residents will be handing out thousands and thousands of our community newspapers which explain the reasons why our members are striking and the imminent catastrophic collapse of mental health social work in Barnet.

Our members want to work in a safe working environment with no waiting lists and fair pay. A recruitment and retention payment will help encourage existing staff to remain and help Barnet Council recruit experienced mental health social workers that they badly need before it is too late.

UNISON’s letter finishes with this:

“I repeat my request that you confirm to me in writing as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event prior to 28 May 2024 that you will not seek to procure external workers to provide cover for striking employees.

If you are unable to provide this confirmation or otherwise disagree with the information contained in this letter, I request that you notify me of this by reply as soon as reasonably practicable.

I reserve UNISON’s right to notify the relevant authorities of any potential criminal offences and also to seek relief via the courts, including injunctive relief through judicial review proceedings, should you fail to provide the requested confirmations and agreements by 28 May 2024.

I look forward to hearing from you.”

John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON : “It is deeply disappointing that we are where we are. UNISON has been trying for the past 20 months to avoid this dispute. We’ve had countless meetings both on the record and off the record to try and find a place where we could find an agreement. The problem is the Council keep changing their position and the critical factor is that the real decision maker has not been present in any of the negotiating meetings. The letter issued by UNISON is extremely professional and has made it very clear of the serious risks facing Barnet Council if they continue to pursue an adversarial approach to this dispute. I am still hopeful that someone in a Leadership position in Barnet Council will approach UNISON about meeting us halfway to end the dispute and try and restore stability within the mental health social work teams.”