Trade union firm faces trade union-organised strike

GMB: Pickets planned

Leading trade union law firm Thompsons is facing a strike over pay – and pickets lines at its offices across the country – organised by a trade union.

Thompsons, one of the few unionised law firms, says the impact of LASPO and fixed costs in personal injury means it cannot afford the 3.5% demanded.

The GMB – which told Legal Futures that it was not a client of Thompsons – has urged the firm to hold last-ditch talks to avoid the strike.

It said Thompsons staff have accepted real-terms pay cuts for three years, while its accounts show that “partners have taken millions”.

GMB members – made up of both fee-earning and non-fee-earning staff – voted 89% in favour of taking action on a turnout of nearly 73% after the firm made an original offer of 1%, followed by a revised offer of 2% after talks at ACAS.

Without further talks, members are set to stage a national walk out over pay on 18 October. The GMB said picket lines were expected at the firm’s offices in Bristol, Plymouth, Cardiff, Birmingham, Stoke, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, Congress House in London – which is also the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress – Condor House in London, Dagenham, Norwich and Newcastle.

Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, said: “The ball really is now in Thompsons’ court. We wrote to the firm on Friday with a list of dates we are available and a list of questions we have about the accounts.

“GMB hopes Thompsons can be transparent and give us some clear cut answers as well as scheduling urgent talks to avoid strike action.

“Our members have been very reasonable for a number of years. They have accepted below inflation pay increases only to find that equity partners have taken millions in drawings on profit.

“The strength of feeling from the members is loud and clear but we genuinely hope that strike action can be avoided and remain available for urgent talks.”

Thompsons’ most recently published LLP accounts, for the year to 30 April 2018, recorded a net profit of £13m on a turnover of £65m – with the profit up nearly £5m on the previous year.

Some £3.3m of that went to remunerating the LLP’s members, with a further £5.6m reserved on behalf of members for tax.

Some £3.8m was left for retention, investment or discretionary investment among members.

The accounts said the LLP had 24 members at that time, with the highest paid receiving a net income of £266,000, with a retention of £127,000 and tax provisions of £409,000, totalling £803,000. The highest-paid the previous year received a total of £522,000.

Thompsons had 744 staff on 30 April 2018, 50 fewer than a year earlier.

In a statement, Michelle Cronin, Thompsons’ people, finance and infrastructure director, said: “We value our staff and want to resolve this dispute. We are committed to trade union values and recognise the right of our colleagues to strike, but we are seeking to move forward constructively and we have agreed to further talks at ACAS on a date proposed by the GMB.

“We wish we could afford to pay the 3.5% consolidated increase that the union is seeking this year, but we can’t and the GMB has seen our accounts to confirm this for themselves.

“The financial reality – as any other specialist personal injury law firm will concede if they are being honest – is that unless there are exceptional cases in a year, times are tough due to LASPO and fixed costs, and our priority is to find a solution that rewards staff while also protecting the long-term sustainability of the firm.”

The chair of the firm’s supervisory board is former Labour MP Baroness Dawn Primarolo.

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