Socialist Worker

Health workers get thrown to the wolves

Issue No. 1811

TOP OFFICIALS in Unison, the biggest NHS union, have disgracefully pushed through a deal with the government over the transfer of staff to private companies. The deal means that 15 percent of staff in PFI deals can be transferred to private companies and have their pay and conditions slashed.

The deal will enshrine a two-tier workforce, with some 260,000 of the lowest paid staff left without any protection when their jobs are taken over by private firms.

The deal means 85 percent of ancillary workers-in catering, cleaning, laundry, portering and security-will be able to remain as NHS employees. But 15 percent, including administration and clerical workers, medical records staff, hospital engineers and other technical staff, will have no such rights. Private contractors will also be allowed to employ casual staff, and retain control over workers' hours and shift patterns.

Delegates at the union's health group conference overwhelmingly rejected this deal earlier this year. Health secretary Alan Milburn effectively tried to blackmail union leaders by telling them if they didn't accept the deal quickly, he would withdraw the offer to protect 85 percent of staff altogether. Unison's health group executive voted for the deal by 27 votes to 14. But quite rightly the GMB union refused to be bullied and rejected the proposal, accusing Alan Milburn of acting 'like Al Capone'.

The 14 members of the health executive who voted against the government's deal have issued a statement condemning the betrayal and calling for the fight to continue.

The statement argues the deal 'weakens the fight against PFI' by 'driving a wedge' between different groups of workers. It also argues that overturning the decision of the health group conference 'puts the democratic processes of the union under threat'.

The statement calls on all Unison health branches and regions to press urgently for meetings of all branches facing PFI projects to discuss how to continue to coordinate the fight against PFI.


THE PRIVATE company Sodexho made a last minute offer to workers at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in a desperate attempt to halt a two-day strike planned for this week. The 220 workers, members of the Unison union, had voted by 95 percent for a strike over pay.

The porters, domestics, security and catering workers are also demanding they should get full NHS conditions of employment. Unison officials said they could not recommend Sodexho's offer to the workers. The workers are furious that their average take home pay is as little as £120 a week. Sodexho is a hugely profitable company which has profited from running New Labour's voucher scheme for asylum seekers.

The nearby South Glasgow trust conceded last week that it will take back its services from Sodexho in November, a year before the private contract was due to expire. Three patients at Glasgow's Victoria Infirmary died during a salmonella outbreak in January. Sodexho had been running its support services such as cleaning.


LOW PAID workers at Singleton hospital in Swansea have voted unanimously for strike action over pay. The porters, cleaners and medical receptionists are employed by the private company Mediclean on minimum wage scales. Around 150 hospital workers packed into a union meeting last week to vote for strike action.

Phil Billows

WORKERS AT the Bart's and Royal London Hospital trust in east London are involved in a vital battle to defend their union. Disgracefully, management at the trust have suspended the Unison union branch secretary, Phil Billows.

A PFI deal is due to be signed at the trust later this year to hand the rebuilding of the hospital over to a private consortium. Phil has been at the forefront of the campaign to stop PFI. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, has made a statement backing Phil and condemning this attack on Unison. Phil also has the backing of Unison's London health committee.

Send donations and messages of support to the union office-phone or fax 020 7601 8125.

Send protests to Paul White, Bart's and Royal London chief executive-fax 020 7377 7931.

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Article information

Sat 3 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1811
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