The results of the ballot will be known on 5 October and will determine whether or not the staff take strike action. GMB union leaders want to see all staff get a 3.5 per cent pay rise from the Banbury-based service provider, which took over the contract for the east London council from Continental Landscapes in October 2006.
GMB says some employees are being paid just £6 an hour, while others are on just £6.50 an hour.
Union official Bert Schouwenburg said: “Fountains keeps saying that this is a difficult time for them but no one should be paid under the living mean rate of £7.20 an hour. It’s appalling.”
The union claims that a sloppy contract handover led to the failure by Continental Landscapes to inform Fountains of the pay settlement it had agreed with the Tower Hamlets staff.
But Fountains said it gave the staff a five per cent increase a year ago. It added that, following further negotiations this month, it has offered workers another pay rise (of an undisclosed amount) that is slightly above the rate of inflation — but the trade union has turned down this offer, saying that it is not good enough.
Fountains also claims that not all of the employees are agreeing with the union’s tactics.
A representative said: “The employees at Tower Hamlets have been contacting Fountains directly stating that they wish to accept the company pay increase. To date, over 50 per cent of the workforce at Tower Hamlets have accepted the pay increase.
The rest of the company, including other workforces represented by the same union, have accepted the pay increase.”
Both Continental Landscapes and Fountains deny the contract handover allegations.
Continental Landscapes managing director Simon Goodenough said: “As experienced and considerate employers, Continental Landscapes conformed with the current laws relating to the transfer and protection of staff under TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations] when our contract came to an end in Tower Hamlets.”
Fountains first branched out into grounds maintenance two years ago. Since then it has seen that side of its business grow to a value of £16m. (HW, 22 March).
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