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Prince of Wales Baths workers face hardship with no furlough help

Staff on zero hours-style arrangements miss out on support

27 November, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

The Victorian swimming pool [Julian Walker]

STAFF who have given years of service to one of Camden’s most popular leisure centres say they are facing poverty after being told they will not receive furlough help.

The workers at the Kentish Town Sports Centre, known locally as the Prince of Wales Baths, were on zero-hours-style shifts and have been left with no income while the pool stays closed.

The flexible employment arrangement means some regulars found out each week what hours they would be working without a full-time contract.

The Victorian baths, saved from being sold off after a New Journal campaign in 2003, are owned by the council but managed by contractor GLL.

Deena Mostafa has worked for GLL for five years in their sales and reception team and had her weekly pay packet stopped in September.

“There are people who have been at the Prince of Wales for longer than me who have been doing full time hours yet are still on zero hour contracts.”

She added: “I am down £600 a month. We don’t qualify for things like free school meals, and life has come to a standstill.” Casual staff did receive furlough support based on their average weekly hours in March but this is not the case now.

Lifeguards, swimming teachers, fitness instructors, cleaners, sales and reception staff have been affected, Ms Mostafa said. Emails from staff to the Town Hall outline the difficulties many face.

One said: “We have been struggling. Due to this second lockdown I was hoping the furlough would continue, but they said only full-time will receive it. “We are all casuals working full-time hours. It’s unfair. Most of my colleagues been working there for years but treated as if it didn’t matter.”

Ms Mostafa said: “What annoys us is that GLL haven’t even acknowledged we are staff. It is like we do not exist. It is unethical to leave people in a position like this. The only reason to keep us on these contracts is to save money and to be able to get rid of us when they want to.

“They say they have no obligation to give us hours, and we have no obligation to take them – but that’s simply not true. We are obligated, as we need to earn a wage.”

Unison’s branch organiser John Mann said the union was taking up the case, and suggested the contract should be brought in-house to put staff on the same terms and protection as council staff.

He said: “It is an injustice. It is another example of why zero hours should be scrapped. The council’s official stance is their contractors should not be using them – so this needs to become an iron-clad policy.”

A Camden Council spokesman said GLL would furlough employees who had a role to return to.

“In order to comply with Covid-19 safety measures, prior to the current lockdown, leisure centres have been operating with reduced capacity and hours,” he said. “

Very sadly this has meant some of the roles previously occupied by GLL staff on flexible hours have been reduced, meaning these staff will not have roles to return to.

“The government must now provide councils and our partners in the charity sector with the necessary funding to support residents who lose their work back into employment or training.”

A spokesperson for GLL said it would furlough those whose positions “remain viable”. “It is sadly the case that some of the roles previously occupied by staff on flexible hours are now reduced,” their statement said. The extended furlough scheme will be used to support people where there is a realistic prospect of them having jobs to return to.”

GLL’s contract was extended last year.

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