COUNCIL repairs company Fortem revealed it aims to create more than 30 new jobs in Rotherham – as union leaders prepared to hold a vote on strike action over plans to make nearly 20 staff redundant.
Fortem, which is also planning to open a training academy in the town, said it would be hiring 34 later in the year as its Rotherham office is transformed into a “northern operational hub”.
But the news came just days after trade union Unite said it was preparing to ballot members for industrial action after the decision by Fortem, which carried out maintenance and repairs on Rotherham council housing, to derecognise the union.
Angry workers contacted the Advertiser last month to raise the alarm after learning jobs at Fortem’s Parkgate call centre were under threat.
They said between 16 and 19 were at risk, but Fortem said the redundancies amounted to 13-and-a-half full-time roles.
Fortem said this week that its Dodds Close base would be upgraded to help the company fulfil contracts in Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley and Hull and the move would open up jobs in commercial, operations and supply chain roles, as well as spots for six new apprentices and six management trainees.
Its 4Life Training Academy at premises in Dinnington, due to open in the spring, is expected to create another six jobs.
Fortem managing director Mick Williamson said: “Turning Rotherham into a regional hub for our activities in the north and investing in a new academy that thousands will use to learn lifelong skills underlines our long-term aim to drive growth across South Yorkshire.”
Fortem said moving “back office” functions, including call centre operations and supervisory positions, to a new “smart hub” in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, would improve service and reliability.
But the resulting axing of jobs in Rotherham was angrily attacked by Unite, which said it would lobby Rotherham Borough Council to reverse the decision.
Regional officer Shane Sweeting called the unions derecognition an “outrageous attack on union rights”.
He said the union had been seeking to find alternatives to redundancy and to extend the pool from which workers could seek voluntary redundancy in order to avoid compulsory redundancies.
Mr Sweeting added: “Unite will be using all avenues open to it, whether that is industrial or legal, to get this decision overturned.
“Fortem is supplying services on behalf of Rotherham Council and it is completely unacceptable that council taxpayers’ money is being used to derecognise the union rather than repair tenants’ homes.
“Unite will be lobbying the council to apply pressure on Fortem to reverse this decision.
“If industrial action does go ahead, tenants will be denied vital repairs and maintenance projects will be delayed, purely as a result of Fortem’s misguided and ill-judged attack on Unite.”
Mr Sweeting said Unite would hold a mass meeting of its members at Fortem and begin the process of balloting for industrial action.
He said Fortem had refused to enter into any meaningful consultation with Unite over the redundancies and, when challenged, the firm had replied that the union had been derecognised.
A Fortem spokesman said this week that a full consultation process was underway “to find alternatives to confirming roles as redundant, including identifying redeployment opportunities”.