Molly Dawson and Paul Evans

It is UNION week, and it’s been a busy year for Trade union members as they face the reality of a health and care system under pressure. Despite working harder than ever staff face tough threats to their pay and conditions, but they have been fighting back and with some success. 

Just this week drug and alcohol support workers in Wigan announced plans to strike after their employer, Addaction refused to keep pace with NHS rates for equivalent jobs.

Staff who were transferred to the London-based charity from Wigan Council voted unanimously to take industrial action, echoing a string of similar disputes across the health and care sector.

Fair Pay and patient safety
In December and January 26,000 staff from Northern Ireland made history by striking for better pay and increased staffing, in a healthcare service currently beset by crisis.

The action coordinated by Unison, RCN and Unite brought mass media attention to crucial safety issues and won an improved deal from the government.

While the unions viewed the deal as “not perfect” it delivered an extra £60m for staffing, including an additional 900 nursing trainees and over time there will be a reduction in the reliance on agency staff

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Our members in Northern Ireland have not only achieved pay parity against great odds, they have won the support and respect of the people of Northern Ireland by their determination to stand up for the rights of patients and health workers alike.

Throughout October hospital cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security workers went on strike over the company’s failure to match health service pay rates and working conditions.

Most of the Compass employees are on the minimum wage (£8.21 an hour), yet work alongside colleagues employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest hourly rate is £9.03.

This difference of 82p an hour is worth around £1,500 a year for full-time staff, according to Unison. who levelled criticism at the company for disciplining staff that had spoken out.

Security staff in Southampton
Last year security staff at Southampton General Hospital were frequently being attacked in the A&E department by members of the public either under the influence of drink or drugs, or with mental health problems.

Their employer, Mitie was criticised for not supplying protective equipment, and employees were angry at the level of financial support offered to those who had been injured in the attacks. A two day strike led to further discussions involving officials from Unite over a new package for the employees.

Unite lead officer for health in the south east Scott Kemp said: “Unite is pleased to announce that our security staff at Southampton General Hospital have accepted a package that includes increased pay rates, improved sick pay arrangements, and new PPE equipment.”

Back in April/May 2019, catering staff at Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Foundation Trust voted to take strike action over their pay conditions. After their services were privatised back in 2017, they were assured they would remain on NHS pay scales.

However, the French company, Sodexo, said that pay levels could not be matched with the NHS, “As part of the 2018 Agenda for Change pay deal, the Department of Health agreed to centrally fund new pay rates for NHS employees in England.

“However, this funding has not been extended to include those employed by private contractors, such as Sodexo.

Joint action by Unison and GMB members over two days resulted in the staff being offered a pay deal matching the NHS pay scales and backdated.

Back in-house
A thousand low-paid porters, cleaners and catering staff at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London will transfer back into the NHS, after Sodexo hands back the service contract that they have run since 2015.

As part of the transfer back to the NHS, staff from Sodexo will see their pay, overtime, pensions and sickness allowances brought in line with other health service workers, ending years of unfair treatment.

Hospitals managed by the trust include: Charing Cross, Hammersmith, St Mary’s, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea, Western Eye.

Lincolnshire health visitors
A month-long strike by 70 health visitors employed by Lincolnshire County council was paused after the council agreed to the majority of the affected staff being moved up the pay scale, saving the worst affected from losing £4000 a year.

Unite regional officer Steve Syson said: “Thanks to the tremendous solidarity that our members have shown since this dispute started in the summer, we have achieved a highly significant and welcome victory.”

Wholly owned subsidaries
Across the country cash-strapped hospital trusts have announced proposals to develop private companies to employ non-clinical staff, taking advantage of VAT rules.

Over the last two years as plans have come forward they have been consistently challenged, and some successfully halted, in campaigns run by unions, healthcare staff and activists.

After three weeks of action and lengthy negotiations between Unison and the Trust Board, senior executives at Bradford NHS Trust agreed to drop plans to transfer porters, cleaners, security staff and others into a private company.

An Eleventh-hour agreement between unions and bosses at Frimley Health Foundation Trust avoided planned strike action and the planned transfer of 1000 staff to a wholly-owned subsidiary – Unison, Unite and the GMB had been coordinating events including a human chain around the hospital to highlight the issue.

In May 2019 The High Court ruled against Circle’s appeal to continue running Nottingham Treatment centre, a contract they were first awarded back in 2008, rewarding campaigners and trade unions for their joint efforts to oppose the privatisation which was reportedly earning Circle an annual profit of £2.9 million.

Circle lost this legal action against Rushcliffe CCG, leaving Nottingham University Hospital free to begin the five-year contract to run Nottingham Treatment Centre. Circle felt this decision was “flawed” and “unfair”

Get involved, share your stories and encourage people you know to join a union – more information on Union Week 2020 here:

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