TONY BLAIR constantly talks about 'modernising'. But the reality for many workers is of employers threatening to turn the clock back to the days when workers had no sick leave, no maternity leave and few holidays. Workers in two London councils hit back against these Victorian-style employers this week.
Workers in Tory controlled Wandsworth planned a mass protest outside a council meeting on Wednesday of this week. They are furious that the council wants to force its workers to pay for the right to go sick. Thousands of Wandsworth workers struck over the attack last month. The council says that if workers have as few as six days off sick a year they will have to work for nothing to make up the time or get their pay docked. The council also plans to cut holidays by up to five days a year. Workers will be able to 'earn' this holiday back depending on their sickness record.
Sarbani Mazumdar, secretary of Wandsworth council's UNISON branch, says, 'The council's plan will hit single parents who have time off for childcare. It will hit people with disabilities, people with long term illness and many others. We've gone through cuts and the stress that brings makes people ill. People are just so angry. They have reached the limit.'
In Haringey, north London, a New Labour council is pushing an equally vindictive attack. The council wants to stop paying workers for the first two days they are off sick. New Labour makes great play of its commitment to 'family friendly' policies. Yet Haringey also wants to slash its women workers' right to maternity leave.
'The cuts on maternity pay and sick pay will hit low paid women workers hardest,' says Janet, one of thousands of Haringey workers who struck and shut down the council on Tuesday. 'It feels like we're under the Tories. We work much harder, do longer hours, for less money.' Maxine agreed. The sick pay cut means 'people are going to be standing in work, dead on their feet when they shouldn't be there. We're striking over the principle.'
Haringey now says it plans to attack teachers' conditions too, forcing class sizes up. Tony Brockman, vice-president of the NUT, spoke to a council workers' rally on Tuesday. He accused New Labour of acting like 'feudal bosses', treating their workers like 'serfs', and threatened Haringey council with a 'winter of discontent'.