Workers who supply hospitals and GP surgeries across England held a 24-hour strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, their second such action.
The strike, by up to 1,000 members of the Unison union at NHS Logistics, was a warning shot directed against DHL - the German parcel courier that took over the agency last weekend.
According to Chris Kowalczyk, Unison branch secretary for the Normanton depot, West Yorkshire, “This strike was even more solid than the last one.”
The workers will have to reballot if they wish to take further action because the privatisation means their employer has changed.
But the decision of the GMB union to ballot staff already working for DHL Express reflects DHL’s style of management and is also a source of hope.
It raises the prospect that future strikes at NHS Logistics could coincide with action by DHL Express workers.
Paul Harper, Unison branch secretary at the Maidstone depot in Kent, told Socialist Worker that his branch was trying to get in touch with existing DHL workers to coordinate their struggles.
Paul said, “I think we’d get support for further action. If we have more action I think we should escalate beyond 24-hour actions.”
The workers at NHS Logistics have given a glimpse of the type of struggle needed to blunt New Labour’s attack on the NHS. Now it is vital that plans are made for the next phase of the struggle - the attempt to drive out the privateers and prevent attacks on the workforce.
DHL staff’s treatment shows privatisation future
New Labour have chosen to hand over NHS Logistics to DHL, one of the most notorious union-busting corporations around.
Workers represented by the GMB union at DHL Express are set to ballot for strike action over restructuring plans that could see 3,000 staff replaced by casual workers. These casual staff would be paid 62p per package delivered.
While workers in NHS Logistics have been assured that their terms and conditions will be preserved after privatisation, workers at DHL Express, the biggest parcel courier in Britain, tell a different story.
One worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “I’m a courier. I go in, collect bins full of parcels, load them onto the van, work a route out and deliver them.
“The wage is £6.78 an hour and couriers work anything from 39 hours, the contracted hours, up to 60 hours a week.
“We don’t get paid overtime. We are on a bonus scheme where you have a set amount of deliveries and anything you do above that you get a bonus.
“There are a lot of notices put up giving instructions, saying if the instructions are not obeyed they will result in disciplinary action. There’s a very disciplinary culture in the company.
“Almost anything will land you on a disciplinary. The procedure is a verbal warning, a written warning, a final warning and then the sack. There’s nothing else.
“Back when the company was Securicor Omega Express, the workers had a union in place for about 30 or 35 years.
“The union went through the motions and very few people got sacked—only people who were thieves, or people who were guilty of sexual or racial discrimination.”
The culture changed when DHL, owned by Deutsche Post World Net, bought up the company in July 2003.
The DHL Express worker said, “DHL will sack people for anything. They also set up a rival organisation to the union within the company and tried to recruit GMB members.
“GMB reps were ignored, while the company’s organisation was allowed to go round the service centres and managers were instructed to allow them on site.”
GMB reps for 5,000 union members, based at 102 locations, met in Manchester last week and threatened hard-hitting action.
DHL’s plan to make job cuts, close depots and offer pay rises of 1.9 percent in year one, and 2.5 percent in years two and three, was rejected and a strike ballot declared.
Mick Rix, a GMB national officer representing DHL workers, said, “DHL are proposing a rapid return to Victorian mill owner values. Our members will be thrown to the wolves of the dole queue, while casual, non-contracted workers will be brought in.”