Striking rehab workers from Wigan and Leigh took their fight for equal pay to We Are With You’s headquarters in central London on Thursday.
The Unison union members at the alcohol and drug rehabilitation charity—formerly Addaction—are coming to the end of a ten-day strike.
The workers were outsourced from the NHS to We Are With You, which runs the service on a contract to the Labour-run council.
They have held a series of walkouts since the summer of 2019 after bosses went back on a promise to keep NHS Agenda for Change pay rates.
One Unison union member says it’s “very difficult” to get by without the pay rises. “If you are lucky enough to have any savings,” she told Socialist Worker, “you might be able to use them.
“But what if you haven’t? We’ve had members who’ve had to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau for help with their debts.”
Bosses promised workers that they would honour the NHS Agenda for Change. “But because of a new legal precedent,” the worker explained, “they said they didn’t legally have to anymore.”
Previous strikes have forced bosses to make a series of “non-consolidated” pay offers—but workers are fighting on to win a real pay increase. Another Unison member told Socialist Worker, “The last one was around £100 and back pay, but it was still ‘non-consolidated’.
‘It wouldn’t go towards our pension and the following year we’d still have the same pay.”
She added, “They are a charity, they are called We Are With You—but that’s obviously not true with us.
“They didn’t even want to recognise Unison.”
Workers say the poverty pay is already having a negative impact on people who rely on the rehabilitation service. “There’s a high turnover,” one Unison member said. “We get new people who gain experience and then leave.
“Why would you come to work for a charity if the pay is less?”
Another worker added, “Some workers have 80 clients in their workload and you have the families on the phone needing support. How can you do it? These are complex cases and people’s lives we’re talking about.”
Workers are determined to fight until they win the same pay as workers directly-employed by the NHS. As one Unison member said, “They’ve kept increasing the offers and we hope they’ll come back with something.
“But if not, we’ll keep striking.”
The strikers have won widespread solidarity. Unite, RMT and CWU union members have regularly attended pickets.
Union branches should donate money to their strike fund. And every trade unionist, campaigners and socialists should go around their workplace and do a collection for the We Are With You strikers.
A win in Wigan would be a boost to everyone fighting the Tories’ and bosses’ attempts to make working class people pay for the coronavirus crisis.