Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1996

Firefighters ballot

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Hertfordshire has announced plans to ballot firefighters for industrial action against cuts to the service proposed by the county council.

The balloting was due to start on Tuesday of this week with a result expected by the end of the month, according to Herts FBU vice-chair Tony Smith.

“The employers want to close two fire stations and downgrade another two. It’s unbelievable,” Tony Smith told Socialist Worker.

The decision to ballot for strike action was taken after Herts county councillors voted through the cuts at a full council meeting on Tuesday 28 March.

FBU members protested at the council meeting that day.

The Herts region includes fire crews that tackled the huge Buncefield oil depot fire in December. Many firefighters boycotted a Downing Street reception held for them last month in protest at the cuts.

The FBU recently received a leaked document showing that the local fire authority has secret plans to shut down or downgrade seven fire stations in the county.

Unison union meets to plan NHS fight

A special meeting of senior office holders in the NHS from the Unison union took place on Friday of last week amid a growing sense of crisis in the health service.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals is one of the latest NHS trusts to announce major job losses to balance its books. It said it would have to axe 720 jobs over the next year to claw back a £31.5 million deficit.

In all, over 6,000 job losses have been announced in the past five weeks, with thousands more anticipated.

The Unison meeting, attended by health regional committee chairs, regional heads of health and health service executive members, heard union officials discuss an “industrial strategy” to challenge the job losses.

Some of those at the meeting drew comparisons with the fight over pensions, seeing the battle in the NHS as a possible second front against New Labour’s attacks.

Ambulance workers in Avon win deal

Ambulance workers in the Avon area, South West England, have won significant overtime payments.

Negotiations this week saw employers for the new merged ambulance trust covering Avon, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, agree to pay overtime rates of time and a half.

The workers also won the payments for overtime worked since the Agenda for Change pay deal was introduced on 1 January 2005.

The sums involved are significant. “Lots of staff work 4.5 hours over the agreed 37.5 hours per week,” said Steve Smart, Unison branch secretary for Avon Ambulances.

Smart added that there were outstanding issues over winning equal pay for paramedics, who currently have pay differentials of up to £3,500.

The talks took place with workers threatening three two-hour strikes. The Wiltshire area of the merged trust is still in dispute.

Teaching strike in Nottingham

Teachers at Colonel Frank Seely School in Calverton outside Nottingham went on strike on Wednesday of last week.

Students helped hand out leaflets at the gates which explained, “Under a new staff restructuring scheme some teachers are set to lose up to £3,000 a year and, in one case, £4,000 for the same, if not increased, workload.”

The restructuring is not supposed to result in wholesale cuts but, in some cases, the temptation to use the exercise to save money has proved overwhelming, and teachers’ salaries are only protected for the next couple of years. There have been 150 ballots and ten walkouts across the country over this issue.

Send messages of support to NUT, Colonel Frank Seeley School, Flatts Lane, Calverton, Nottingham NG14.

Action plan for journalists

Journalists in the NUJ union at the Manchester Evening News are set to ballot for industrial action after rejecting the latest shift patterns deal put forward by management which would destroy an agreement signed in October 2004.

The NUJ is also in talks with management at the conciliation service Acas. A fifth of editorial staff have been made redundant. The 2004 deal guaranteed that existing staff did not have to work new shift patterns.

Meanwhile, journalists at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post are to ballot forindustrial action over pay and other issues.

The chapel (union branch) submitted a claim for a wage increase of 5 percent or £1,300, whichever is the greater. Talks settled nothing and the union is now balloting.

Asda workers: ‘Bosses want us to work like robots’

Warehouse Workers at Asda say management want them to become computer controlled drones—underpaid and at risk of losing their jobs or of injury if they cannot keep up with increased pick rates.

According to Richard Taylor, a regional organiser for the GMB union, “They have radio frequency headsets.

“The workforce wear headsets and a voice phone and get told by a computer what to do. It’s turning them into robots and dehumanising the job.”

Workers also object to being forced to pick more items per hour for no extra pay. They want to see workers across Britain paid the same rate.

The headsets were introduced last year to replace handheld scanners, which tell workers what item to pick next, because they were considered more efficient.

Jim Kieran, a union rep at the Asda Regional Distribution Centre (RDC) in Leceister, said, the headsets were causing stress and headaches.

He said, “We have got to wear a battery pack around our waists with a belt, which is extremely uncomfortable.

“It’s hard enough to bend 1,500 times a shift without something strapped to your waist.

“You are not able to communicate with colleagues, not even to say hello.”

Jim believes he will personally struggle to shift 15 percent more units per shift.

He said, “It’s not going to be difficult for everybody but there is a wide age range in the warehouse. Anywhere from 63 to 64 down to early twenties. They seem to think a 60 year old can do what a 20 year old can do.”

Some workers only get one weekend off per month and no extra money for working weekends.

A strike ballot was due to begin at Asda warehouses on 24 April, but this was called off following talks between the chief executive of Asda, Andy Bond, and Paul Kenny, acting general secretary of the GMB, on Tuesday of this week.

Civil service union meets

The PCS civil service workers’ union group executive in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was set to meet on Wednesday of this week to discuss the long running dispute over 40,000 job cuts.

Some 85,000 workers struck successfully for two days in January, but union leaders in the DWP then went into talks with management.

Last week Keith Wylie, PSC DWP group secretary, announced that, “We are extremely disappointed by what has been offered. The negotiating team feel unable to recommend the outcome as a basis for settling the dispute.”

Dave Owens, the PCS DWP north west England regional organiser, told Socialist Worker, “The negotiations (and nobody has a clue what’s been discussed apart from the negotiating team) have been allowed to drag on too long and the campaign is in danger of running out of momentum.

“The group executive needs to call a programme of strikes, not just one or two days. We should be linking up with the powerful strikes by other public sector workers over pensions.”

Meanwhile, lPCS civil service workers’ union members at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) large processing centre at Lothians, have voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking over new working practices.

Some 80 percent voted in favour of industrial action

following the introduction of the “Lean” working practices in the Lothians processing centre. The union says that “Lean” has led to a culture of corporate bullying, with work being deskilled and in some cases staff being exposed to the risk of repetitive strain injury.

If further negotiations with HMRC do not produce a settlement, the union said it would launch a campaign of industrial action with a one-day strike at Lothians. This could lead to ballots at the nine other large processing sites.

In another dispute, members of the PCS civil service workers’ union working across the 47 Learning and Skills Councils in England and the Coventry headquarters have voted massively for a one-day strike followed by selective strike action in a dispute over plans to slash nearly a third of staff.

Some 88 percent voted for a one day strike against management’s plan to cut 1,120 staff by June this year. This was on a 64 percent turnout.

Workers are extremely angry, especially after bosses have forced staff to take IQ and psychometric tests to keep their jobs.

Big vote for action on the buses

Bus driver at Travel West Midlands have voted for strike action. The 3,600 drivers, members of the T&G union, voted by 73 percent for industrial action on a turnout of 68 percent.

The drivers have been in dispute with their employers since October of last year. They are fighting to bring their working conditions in line with the T&G’s Bus Workers’ Charter, which aims for a minimum salary of £20,000 a year.

Despite the mandate for action, the union has yet to set any dates for industrial action.

Voting on action at Canary Wharf

Cleaners at Canary Wharf, east London, announced that they are to ballot for strike action at a rally on Friday of last week.

The ballot, which began this week, covers some 600 cleaners at Canary Wharf. They are members of the T&G union.

The cleaners have been campaigning for almost two years for a living wage of £6.70 an hour, as well as sick pay, holidays and pension rights. This is the first time that industrial action has been a possibility.

The cleaners at the Houses of Parliament won their dispute earlier this year after taking two days of action.

New faces come to film showing

Over 60 people attended a Stop the War Coalition film showing in Hackney, east London, on Thursday of last week. Many of them were people who had not attended a Stop the War meeting in Hackney before.

The Road to Guantanamo, Michael Winterbottom’s new film about the real life experiences of three British men caught up in the nightmare of the “war on terror”, proved a big draw.

Doug Jewell from the civil rights organisation Liberty spoke and denounced the US’s Guantanamo Bay torture camp.

It’s not all Wight on this ferry

Members of the RMT union on the Southampton ferry operator Wightlink were set to strike on Good Friday and Easter Monday over pay.

The union plans another 24-hour strike on Sunday 23 April.

Let Henley go to GMB conference

The GMB general union is appealing to the ECT private company to give paid time off to employee Henley Smith so he can attend the union’s conference in June.

ECT has responsibility for some of Ealing in west London’s transport contract.

Henley is the company’s only Rastafarian employee. Henley was elected for the first time to go to conference. But the company’s board has rejected any possibility of paid time off for Henley.

ECT is owned and run by the Bond brothers, one of whom is a Labour councillor. Roger Sears, a Labour councillor in Ealing, is also a member of ECT’s board.

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Article information

Sat 15 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1996
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