When the borough of Barnet’s care homes were sold off to the Fremantle Trust, they guaranteed that pay, terms and conditions of workers were protected. Five years later, the Fremantle Trust has cut holidays, frozen pay until 2010 and removed all unsocial hours remuneration. Even pensions to which contributions have been made over long periods of work have been slashed. The workers were told “accept these terms, or be sacked”.
Fremantle care workers are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and were paid enhancements accordingly. These came to up to £400 a month, helping ease the strain of working weekends and holidays, particularly for women workers who often have to juggle family commitments with work. The enhancements also topped up care workers’ pitifully low hourly rate, set at just £5.63. Now care workers are expected to provide the same level of service, for the same amount of hours, with this drastic cut in pay and holiday.
When Fremantle workers and Barnet Unison launched a campaign against the cuts they met dirty tricks at every step from Fremantle and partners Catalyst housing.
After writing to staff over Christmas asking them to sign away their rights, sending managers to “help” them sign, threatening to withhold good shifts if signing was delayed, and using anti-trade union laws to scupper strike plans in February, Fremantle succeeded in delaying action, meaning as of 1 April 2007, all workers were subject to the changes.
Strike plans were once again impeded in June by a Fremantle letter to staff, claiming that Unison had called off action and was advising members to accept the terms. Two 24 hour strikes took place in July, despite managers’ best efforts, with a ballot result of 95%. A further strike was held in September, after Unison rep Andrew Rogers was victimised.
Labour left MP John McDonnell has tabled an Early Day Motion, and there is a parliamentary petition online at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Fremantle/ .
According to the Barnet Unison blog (barnetunison.blogspot.com), some apologists for New Labour have claimed a distinction between privatisation and handing over services to “not-for-profit” trusts like Fremantle. With Fremantle’s record, it’s pretty clear there’s no difference at all, not for workers or for clients.
But the Fremantle workers are still fighting back.
“I started working for Barnet Council 22 years ago in 1985. I had lots of training, lots of experience, and I enjoyed my job. But then things changed. We got sold off to the highest bidder. Fremantle and Catalyst housing promised us seven times they wouldn’t interfere with our terms and conditions. But then they did. On the 1st of April they changed our terms and conditions, they stole our holidays, our sick pay, our weekend enhancements, our bank holidays. We can’t afford to live on this. We have seen that they have difficulty recruiting. People cannot work on their pay. People don’t stay, you have different faces coming every week. And this is worrying, because we can’t get a good standard of care. I don’t understand why all this is happening. We’re all getting older, we all need good care, and this can’t be right. Our [Unison] branch is trying to negotiate with Fremantle and Catalyst, but on 1 April they stole those terms and conditions and since then we’ve seen a 25% drop in income.
Doing my job is hard, but I’ve loved it. I can’t afford this drop in pay. Would British Gas or BT understand if I tell them I can’t afford to pay my bills?
I’m feeling very angry because finding another job is not easy. I made a commitment to the council by staying and working for them, and this is what happens. The council pay Fremantle to provide a service for their vulnerable clients, but Barnet council don’t want to know.
Do you realise that the generation who fought for us and set up the NHS, and paid their taxes, and worked and hard life, are now forced to put up with substandard care from staff who have been treated as substandard employees? This can’t be right. Who makes these decisions?
No one seems to be listening. If you’re listening, can you help? Would you send a message of support to our branch? Would you contact your local MP and ask to sign the Early Day Motion, or contact Fremantle or Catalyst Housing? We need your support.”
“I started working for Barnet Council in 1986 as a laundry worker. I love my job and really enjoy working with the elderly. But then things changed. We were sold off to the highest bidder. We were worried but the Chief Executive then promised categorically that contracts would not change for the duration of our employment at Fremantle Trust.
But then things started to change, little at first, but last year the bombshell. They wanted to take everything away from us: annual leave; weekends; bank holiday payments; sickness payments. It is not as if we are on high pay — we are not. I earn the vast sum of £7.40 per hour. I don’t understand how this happened — we are get old, we all want the highest standards of care. This can’t be right.”
“I’ve been with Barnet for the past 14 years. I’ve got a lot to say on this subject but at present I am sick so I will talk about sickness, and how it affects staff so badly since Fremantle changed our terms and conditions.
I had to go to my doctor yesterday, and I’ve got a throat infection that’s gone into my chest. Under Fremantle terms I have no pay for the first week, or I take flexi-time or book annual leave. This is not fair to staff — either we do that or we bring the illness we’ve got in to the clients. Our clients do understand what we’re going through and are quite supportive, but it’s very unfair that if staff are sick we have little choice but to bring the illness we have to the vulnerable clients.
This is all because of Fremantle terms and conditions. They first promised no changes, lead us into a false sense of security for the past six years. And then all of a sudden in 2006 they put terms and conditions to us that you can only class as a steal. Fremantle didn’t offer anything, they just came like a thief in the middle of the night and took everything away from us.
Please support Fremantle staff, because this could happen to anyone. The ways things are going at the moment, it’s as if no job is secure. We haven’t got a leg to stand on. We need more support and we need people to realise what is going on out there in the workplace. The management team are literally stealing our hard work over the years… if you’ve got an elderly parent in care, whatever borough you’re in, the same thing might happen to you.”
• Support the Fremantle Care Workers — Demonstration, Saturday 10 November 2007, 12pm, Burnt Oak, London
• Messages of support can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
• Sign the online petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Fremantle/