As Solidarity went to press on 20 January, health unions were meeting with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The NHS pay dispute is escalating. It started timidly with two days of four-hour strikes. But now there will be a 12 hour strike on 29 January, followed by a 24 hour strike on 25 February involving most of the unions in the NHS.
There were problems with the two four hour strikes. In some areas unions scuppered their own action by granting lavish “exemptions”, encouraging many members to go to work.
However there has been large public support for strikes, and picket lines have been lively.
Health workers should have a say in negotiations with the government. Union full timers should not be able to make deals to call off strikes without members’ knowledge and consent.
New offer at Lambeth College
As Solidarity went to press on 20 January, UCU members at Lambeth College were hearing of an improved offer from college management.
On Monday 19 January workers were beginning an indefinite strike, having already struck for five days this month and six in December, in the dispute over contract changes.
Reports suggest the new offer from management means no existing staff will be forced onto new contracts, even if they change their hours, and some concessions on sick pay. There is no suggestion that the new offer does anything to protect any future staff, who will likely be given the new contracts.
UCU members will meet on Wednesday 21 January to decide on the offer.
Brighton hospital workers balloted
The GMB is balloting outsourced cleaners, caterers, housekeepers and porters at Brighton and Haywards Heath Hospitals.
The workers, employed by Sodexo, are calling for Sodexo to pay at least the living wage and for other improvements to end the two-tier workforce at the hospitals resulting from the outsourcing of contracts.
Gary Palmer, GMB Regional Officer, said: “GMB would not support a contention that decreased profits for Sodexo shareholders is a rationale for not taking this step towards ending the two tier workforce for staff at the Trust.
“Any such argument will hold little weight in light of the financial detriments and struggles our members have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Care workers to strike
Unison members at Your Choice Barnet (YCB) will strike on January 22 and 23.
These are the workers’ fifth and sixth days on strike in a dispute over a 9.5% pay cut. Unison says staff in the supported living and autism service rejected an offer to reduce the pay cut to 7.9% in October, but delayed strike action until the new year in order to save the service over Christmas.
Barnet council are still refusing to meet with Unison and YCB, despite the fact that they hold the purse strings for the outsourced service.
Strikers will have picket lines at Flower Lane Day Centre, NW7 2JN and Rosa Morrison Day Centre, EN5 1NA.
Essex firefighters strikes solid despite lockout
Essex firefighters and 999 control staff completed three days of solid strikes on 16 January, despite their employers’ draconian step of locking them out for whole shifts.
The series of short strikes – some only an hour long – took place on 14, 15 and 16 January. The strikes totalled 29 hours, but fire chiefs decided to lock out striking firefighters continuously for the whole three days so they can stop even more pay as punishment. And some officers were locked-out without pay until Saturday morning for standing with the frontline crews.
The net effect for the public in Essex was that fire chiefs decided to remove fire cover from the public continuously for the whole three days, with only a quarter of fire engines available compared to the normal service.
The strikes were about drastic cuts to the fire and rescue service in Essex, which will also put the public permanently at risk. Full time firefighter numbers have already been cut in Essex from 750 to 656 since 2010. The plans would see the number of wholetime firefighters serving at frontline fire stations further reduced, as well as a reduction of emergency control staff by 20%.
Essex firefighters will now debate the next steps in their campaign. With more cuts to fire and rescue services planned across the country for this year – and apparently for years to come – this kind of fightback will be absolutely central to stopping the rot.