Socialist Worker

Birmingham care workers plan escalating strikes to stop £2 billion cuts plan

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2613

Home care workers strike earlier this year

Home care workers strike earlier this year (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Birmingham care workers are planning a huge series of strikes against devastating cuts to adult social care.

The Labour-run council wants to slash £2 billion from the city’s home enablement service.

The Unison union members are set to walk out on 31 July and 1 August—and then for 12 more days in the following three weeks.

Workers have been fighting for over a year against job losses, attacks on their working conditions and privatisation.

They previously struck in January, February and March.

Now management want to force all workers onto part time hours, and make redundancies to the equivalent of 55 full time jobs.

They plan to transfer staff on to contracts of 14, 21 or 23 hours a week. It’s a huge blow that will affect most of the 285-strong workforce—of which currently only 38 work under 23 hours a week.

Mandy Buckley, Unison senior steward, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. She said the cuts could have life-changing consequences for the low-paid workers, the vast majority of whom are women.

“People won’t be able to receive tax credits, or they might have to go on Universal Credit and they’ll get sanctioned,” she said.

“It’s going to affect people’s work pensions, and it will affect our state pension because our national insurance contributions will change.

“We could even end up with people on the street.”

The home enablement team provide a service that supports people in their own homes for six weeks following discharge from hospital.

It has suffered vicious cuts, and the workforce has been reduced by 48 percent in the last year. Workers say management forced people onto voluntary redundancy (VR) through a process of systematic intimidation and bullying.

Depleted 

Now the service is severely depleted, and more care is provided by the private sector. But Mandy says privatising it is a mistake. “All that extra work will go to private agencies,” she said.  “But they won’t be able to enable people in the same way we can.

“They’re structured to provide long-term care.”

The latest attacks are a result of a “redesign” commissioned by the council—which is costing £12 million. That’s enough money to keep the home enablement service running for three years.

Fighting back because we care - Birmingham home care workers speak out
Fighting back because we care - Birmingham home care workers speak out
  Read More

It’s orchestrated by private agency Newton Europe, who are bringing in 12 consultants, each paid £1,200 a day.

Mandy said, “We have get serious because they’re looked at a deadline of 3 September for the selection process for VR. They’re trying to push it through within six weeks.”

And she said the council has suggested carers could make a “lateral move” to other roles. But with Birmingham council making so many cuts, workers fear there simply aren’t enough jobs.

The pressure is on for the carers to stop these attacks before it’s too late. “It was a unanimous vote to strike”, said Mandy.

And Mandy says their programme of escalating action represents the strength of feeling among workers. They are planning pickets, leafletting sessions and strike rallies—including one on the first day of their action.

“We had over 100 members come to meetings, we had members vote for strikes this time that were previously opposed to it,” she said.

“We’ve got to take this very seriously. It’s going to be a loss of the service for the citizens of Birmingham if they get rid of the in-house service—once it’s gone it will be gone.”


Strikes suspended at Sirona 

Carers at Sirona care homes have suspended their strikes after their local authority agreed to consider funding options.

Unison union members struck for 24 hours on 10 July and for 12 hours on 12 July.

On the second strike day this month they rallied at the council chambers, and Bath and North East Somerset council agreed to set up a scrutiny committee.

Sirona was trying to steal 30 minutes of wages for every shift worked.

After the workers offered to suspend action, Sirona withdrew its plans to dismiss and re-engage workers on worse contracts.


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