Over 100 striking Birmingham home care workers held a defiant protest outside the city’s council chambers during their strike on Tuesday.
Chants of, “I’d rather be a picket than a scab” echoed through Birmingham’s Victoria Square.
The Unison union members took their fight directly to the Labour-run council that’s imposing punishing cuts.
The home care workers returned a 99 percent vote to strike last December in response to plans that would destroy the service they provide.
The 350 members of the home enablement team previously walked out on 20 January.
The council wants to sack 40 percent of workers and make the rest of them work three split shifts during the day.
The new shift patterns would mean working for 16 hours but only getting paid for 11. And if workers are unable to do the new split shifts, they will be forced to work part-time.
The home enablement team provide a vital service. They make house visits for six weeks for people who have been recently discharged from hospital.
The cuts will have a devastating impact on an already low-paid workforce. The home carers are preparing to go to conciliation service Acas later this week and are proposing a “self-rostering” system instead of the new split shifts.
Mandy Buckley has been a home care worker for 16 years and a Unison steward for just over a year.
She explained, “We all work evenings and weekends anyway. But with self rostering it gives us an element of choice about which shifts we take on, which will give us a better work/life balance.”
The strike came just days after Unison general secretary Dave Prentis vowed, “Our homecare workers in Birmingham have the full support of myself and the national union.
“I will personally come up to Birmingham to be with on the picket line. You will not be alone.”
Prentis was not at the rally, but that type of support from Unison will be crucial in winning the dispute. The home care workers must not be left to fight alone.
Denise was a home carer for 24 years before fear of new shift patterns forced her into early retirement just a few weeks ago.
She said, “It’s the Tory government’s fault really, but the councillors shouldn’t agree to the cuts.”
Striker Elaine said the new rotas will put women under extra pressure. “Some women choose just to work evenings or weekends because they’ve got kids,” she said.
“I look after my grandson every Friday but I won’t be able to do that with the new shifts.”
Mandy described the strike as “empowering”. “This is us taking a stand,” she said. “A lot of people wouldn’t have come out on strike before but now that’s changed.
“We’re going to strike until we win, we’re not going to give up.
“Everyone is absolutely determined to win.”