OVER 1,500 hospital workers staged a one-day strike over pay in two Liverpool hospitals last Wednesday. Domestics, lab technicians, auxiliary nurses, cleaners, porters and other GMB and TGWU members mounted lively picket lines at Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge hospitals.
They are angry that some workers earn up to £4 an hour less than colleagues who do the same job. The strike is another sign of the revolt by the low paid in the NHS. These workers perform vital jobs including maintaining cleanliness to prevent infections like the MRSA 'superbug'. Some 130 operations could not go ahead during the strike.
Over 80 pickets outside Arrowe Park Hospital turned back many other workers. Union officials have rejected the hospital trust bosses' claim that they are offering a 10 percent rise to low paid workers over two years. One GMB shop steward told Socialist Worker, 'We've caught them out over their so called pay offer. It amounts to peanuts.
'I trust managers as far as I could throw them.' One TGWU member said, 'For some of us 10 percent still means we get less than £5 an hour. 'Two flats' Blair and his pals got 40 percent.'
We caught pay bug too!
DOMESTIC, portering and catering staff at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London, are set to join the low pay revolt. Workers employed by private contractor ISS Mediclean held meetings last week and agreed a ballot timetable that could see strikes in February. There was lively discussion at mass meetings.
Some said it would take a long strike, but others said that similar battles had been won quickly when workers went all out and won solidarity. Articles from Socialist Worker about recent hospital strikes in Glasgow, Swansea, Inverclyde and Liverpool were passed round the meetings and lifted spirits.
Homerton staff employed by ISS Mediclean get as little as £4.45 an hour, and have no London weighting, overtime rate, company sick pay or pension. Many of the workers are black women. The mass meetings saw the same determination to win among white male porters, Jamaican domestics, Italian caterers and the rest.
Some workers, who were employed at the time of privatisation, retain NHS terms. All who joined afterwards are on worse contracts. The Unison union, which represents 200 of the workers, is demanding a 10 percent pay rise with a minimum of £5.43 an hour and NHS conditions for all.
This fight could spread across east London. The union has submitted similar claims for staff employed by ISS Mediclean and Medirest in several hospitals. Workers at Mile End, St Clements, Barts and the Royal London hospitals have already held meetings to demand the union call a ballot for action against their Medirest employers.
In Mile End Hospital low paid men and women workers from African and Lithuanian backgrounds are united in the fight against low pay. TELCO, The East London Communities Organisation, has played a vital role in agitating for better pay and conditions.
Many east London hospital staff employed by contractors have signed away their rights under the Working Time Directive so they can work 60 to 70 hours a week just to cover basic costs. It would be a brilliant victory to make ISS pay up.
Diana Swingler, Unison branch chair, Homerton University Hospital
BOSSES AT the Barts and Royal London NHS Trust have been forced to back down from a second attack on a key union activist.
Trust bosses sacked Phil Billows. A campaign of letters and complaints forced them to allow Phil to stay in his hospital accommodation until an appeal and industrial tribunal next year. Phil is the hospital's Unison union branch secretary. The campaign to get him reinstated continues.
- Send messages of support to Union Office, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London E1 1BB. Phone/fax 020 7601 8125.
Agenda for change
IT IS becoming increasingly clear that Agenda for Change - the government's modernisation package for the NHS - is a serious attack on health workers. Even the Department of Health has admitted that one in 12 workers could end up being paid less. Other estimates say one in six workers could lose out.
The Department of Health has boasted that the package will squeeze an extra 65 million hours a year out of NHS workers, through increased hours and productivity gains. Opposition is growing inside the Amicus-MSF union, which represents 65,000 health workers.
The committee representing London speech and language therapists voted unanimously last Wednesday to oppose Agenda for Change, and to urge this section nationally to vote against it. The London Health Service Advisory Committee, representing all our health service members in London, voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to oppose Agenda for Change. We will be campaigning for a no vote in the ballot due in March over this rotten deal.