‘Ready for the fight’: Sanctuary Housing workers backed by politicians as they strike again over pay

The workers were joined by a bagpiper on the picket line. Photograph: Maya Sall

Repair and maintenance workers from Sanctuary Housing have staged a second walk-out of the year over a pay dispute.

They say “inadequate” salary increases have left workers resorting to food banks.

Sanctuary handed out a four per cent pay rise in April 2023, when inflation was at 11.4 per cent – meaning the workers received a significant pay cut in real terms.

The workers are also asking for holiday and sick pay that is comparable to Sanctuary’s office staff, and for Sanctuary to recognise their union.

They are members of Unite, and began striking over pay and union recognition in February, with new strikes across April.

Unite said: “The dispute has been drawn out because Sanctuary Housing, which has assets of over £5.6 billion, a surplus of £101.3 million, and a CEO on £400,000 a year, refuses to recognise unions.”

Charles Christodoulou, lead representative for the Sanctuary workers, added: “I’m so upset to hear that some gardeners, who are on a very, very low wage, are resorting to using food banks.

“It’s not acceptable, but we’ve built the union across the country, and we’re ready for the fight.”

He said the strikes are as much about Sanctuary tenants as they are workers.

“We’re connected with the tenants, we’ve worked with some of them for years. We feel for them – we see the conditions they’re living in.”

Nizam Ahmed, a gas engineer for Sanctuary, said: “The strikes have really affected a number of our tenants – maintenance work has had to be cancelled – but this could have all been avoided if, a year ago, Sanctuary came out and talked to us.”

The Hackney-based workers carry out repairs and maintenance for homes around the capital, including the borough’s Gascoyne, Kingsmead, and Morningside estates.

Penny Wrout, Labour councillor for Victoria ward, was at the picket line and addressed the strikers: “The work you do is crucial… with so many people living in housing that hasn’t been maintained properly, the quality of their life depends on getting prompt and effective repairs.”

“Nobody can expect you to do that work when you’re not appreciated by your employer,” she continued.

A message from Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, was delivered by George Binnet, vice chair of the trades council in Camden: “It is unconscionable that when you live and work in the most expensive city in the country… and in the middle of the worst cost-of-living crisis in recent memory, you have been treated so poorly by your employer.”

A spokesperson for Sanctuary said: “We are continuing to actively engage with the small number of colleagues who have raised concerns and remain committed to minimising disruption to our customers.”

Update: this article was amended at 3pm on 1 May 2024 to include a comment from Sanctuary Housing.