A strike by hundreds of health workers in Bolton has forced bosses to agree to full NHS pay for all staff.
The Unison union members at the Royal Bolton Hospital in Greater Manchester work as porters, cleaners and other support staff. They had been “outsourced” to a private firm owned by their NHS trust.
Bosses at iFM Bolton Ltd—an Integrated Facilities Management company—had been refusing to give many workers the same pay, and terms and conditions as people directly employed by the NHS.
All iFM workers will now get the three-year NHS pay deal. A 48-hour strike starting on Thursday of last week saw over 200 join picket lines outside the hospital.
Management caved in at talks on Wednesday before workers were set to walk out again.
Linda Miller, the Unison branch secretary at the hospital, told Socialist Worker (pc) that bosses had “picked on the wrong people”.
“Strikers might be domestics and portering staff,” she said. “But the trust had to provide cover for them. It must have cost them a lot of money.”
Workers accepted bosses’ offer at mass meetings this week.
The win at Bolton is another blow to a dangerous new form of privatisation that threatens the NHS.
iFM is a wholly-owned subsidiarity of the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust. It is a privately-registered company and its workers are not on the NHS pay roll.
The aim of such subsidiaries is to undermine workers’ wages and terms and conditions. Hospital bosses hope that reducing the wage bill will make the service more attractive for private companies down the line.
Often this is done by hiring new workers on worse contracts. But at iFM there was already a two-tier workforce when the company took over the facilities management contract on 1 January 2017.
It took on porters and cleaners, previously employed by private contractor ISS, on the national minimum wage of £7.83 an hour. And then, a few months later, the trust transferred other NHS support workers on £8.92 an hour to iFM.
Bosses lied that they would give all workers NHS Agenda for Change pay and terms and conditions.
Linda said, “When we signed the partnership, management said they would do it and then they turned round and said the opposite.”
This fuelled workers’ anger—and made management see they couldn’t push them around.
“We’ve had a two-day strike and massive support from branches around the country,” said Linda.
The win at the Royal Bolton Hospital shows is another blow to the drive to privatise the NHS. And it shows the power of workers and their unions to fight back.
Scarborough health attack through STP?
Health workers in Scarborough are furious that bosses are keeping them in the dark about plans that could see hospital services axed.
A Unison union member at Scarborough hospital told Socialist Worker, “Our local health service is under threat.
“The way management are treating us and the contradictory statements they’re putting out to the press shows their absolute contempt.”
Under the guise of improving patient care, the Tories want to slash £22 billion from the NHS across England by 2020-21 by a series of “re-organisations” called Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP).
Scarborough falls under the Humber Coast and Vale STP which calls for £420 million in “savings”.
The package could include downgrading the accident and emergency unit.
Similar proposals have all happened under other STP plans.
“People will die if it goes ahead,” warned the Unison member. “People who are seriously ill will have another hour and a half to travel to hospital.”
Bosses have said the review is at an early stage and that “there will be opportunities for staff and the public to get involved”.
This wasn’t the case at a series of staff meetings in the hospital last Thursday.
The Unison member said, “Someone said that there was a staff briefing that had been announced at the busiest time of the day.
“They said all the staff were invited, but they chose a venue for only around 100 people. And then they said they weren’t taking minutes.
“One person showed up and said they were representing a department of 400 people. They were still told there no room.”
Bosses’ contempt shows the need for a mass fightback—which the unions and local campaigners support—to force them to back track on any plans to slash services.
Strikes can beat outsourcing
The victory at the Royal Bolton Hospital follows a successful walkout against outsourcing in nearby Wigan.
Workers at Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh NHS Trust stopped bosses’ plans to outsource their jobs.
The disputes show that strikes aren’t just another form of protest, but have the power to hit bosses where it hurts.
In both Wigan and Bolton the unions didn’t just call a one-day strike. They went for two days straight away—and made clear to bosses that they were going to escalate if they didn’t get what they wanted.
In Wigan the Unison and Unite union members held two 48-hour strikes—then escalated to a five-day walkout. The hospital blinked first.
Similarly in Bolton, Unison called a two-day strike. And it announced dates for another three-day strike before workers had even walked out of the door the first time. Again the bosses were forced to make concessions.