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Bosses at Barts NHS are starting to crack

Plus reports on other industrial actions, such as social workers in Barnet council on strike
Issue 2905
Barts Hospital strikes outside of NHS England this week

Barts Hospital strikes outside of NHS England this week (Picture: Alan Kenny)

Nearly 700 porters, cleaners and facilities workers in the Unite union returned to picket lines last week at Barts Health NHS trust, in east London. They were set to strike until Sunday 19 May. Barts has for months refused to pay them the £1,655 “Covid bonus” the government handed to all directly employed NHS staff. Bosses say this is because many of the strikers were in the process of being transferred back to the NHS from outsourcing company Serco.

And for more than six months they have refused to seriously discuss the issue. But last week in a bid to end the dispute, Barts said it could improve workers’ annual leave. It offered an additional four days this year, and an additional four days next year.

The offer is an insult and is nowhere near an equivalent to the amount of money workers are owed. Yet it is a sign that the strike is hurting the Trust and that senior management are under pressure. On big and lively picket lines last week strikers joyfully chanted, “The workers united will never be defeated”.

Around 80 of the strikers took their picket to the headquarters of NHS England on Monday this week. More than 200 NHS workers at three Nottinghamshire hospitals are also set to strike over unpaid “Covid bonuses”. GMB union members who work for subcontractor Medirest at King’s Mill hospital, Mansfield Community hospital and Newark hospital, in the Midlands, planned to walk out for 24 hours this Friday.

The porters, cleaners, catering workers, call operators and others are furious after Medirest refused the bonus. Company bosses said the government had not funded the bonus for workers not directly employed by the NHS. But Medirest’s parent firm, the Compass Group, made profits of over £2 billion last year.

Health care assistants vote to strike for backpay

Even more health care assistants (HCAs) are joining the fight for the money the NHS owes them. This week over 700 workers in the Unison union at Mersey and West Lancashire NHS Trust voted by 99.9 percent to strike to win thousands of pounds of backpay. For years HCAs were wrongly placed in band 2 of the NHS pay scale, despite performing clinical tasks that should have seen them in band 3. That meant they were paid around £1,000 a year less than they should have been.

Most NHS Trusts have now admitted that they underpaid their staff and have re-banded them. But bosses are holding out on the number of years of back pay compensation they will agree to. Unison North West has already won some of the best back pay deals in the country, with employers forced to pay correctly from 2018. That’s because HCAs there have been prepared to dig in for long strikes.

Don’t cool nuke action

Over 500 workers at Nuclear Restoration Services Limited (NRS) based at Dounreay power station in the Higland area of Scotland were set to strike this week. The Unite union members voted by 80 percent to strike on a 92 percent turnout. They rejected an offer of a one-off £500 payment on top of a 4.5 percent pay increase.

Unite called off two days of action set for 1 and 2 May while the workers considered this offer. The workers want a pay rise that is above inflation. The RPI inflation rate was at 11.4 percent when the pay increase was due in April 2023.

So the offer amounts to a pay cut. A 24-hour strike was planned for Wednesday of this week with an overtime ban set for the following day. Another day of action is also planned for Wednesday 29 May. The workers include craft technicians, general operators, chemical and electrical engineers, maintenance fitters and safety advisers. Unite should not call off any more days of action until the workers win what they want.

Barnet back on picket line

Barnet mental health social workers in north London walked out again for three weeks on Monday this week. This is on top of 37 days of action and will be followed by a four-week walkout from 17 June. The Unison union members are battling the Labour-led council over three demands—a safe service, lower waiting lists and fair pay.

The workers want a retention payment like other social workers, such as those in family and children services. They say this will stop experienced workers leaving, which has seen waiting lists skyrocket and newer workers stuck with difficult cases and little support. The council moved to bring in private firms to scab on the strike and replace council workers in the long-term.

It engaged Flex360—an outsourcing agency—to supply “additional service provision” during the two week strike from 15 April to 26 April. But this cover was withdrawn after the union pointed out the use of agencies to replace strikers was illegal.

The council then said it would instead outsource roles permanently—which the strikers say was a move to undermine their action. The strikers must stand firm against any more attempts by the council to break their strike. Currently Barnet council is refusing to provide retention figures to the union branch.

It says there is no retention problem in the department—but the union knows there is. Unison nationally has to ramp up the pressure on Barnet council. This means funding the strike pay so the workers can stay out for longer, and using its platform to boost the action.

And Barnet Unison has to keep the pressure up on the council to make it unworkable—and expand the strike where it can.

Messages of support to [email protected] Picket lines 8-10am at 2 Bristol Avenue, Colindale, NW9 4EW

Liverpool strikers shut down Mersey museums

Museum workers in Liverpool are not giving up their fight for a cost of living payment. Last week just three of National Museums Liverpool’s seven sites were open. NML is the only employer out of 207 to not pay the £1,500 cost of living payment that had already been won by civil servants last year.

The strikers, who are in the PCS union, continue to make their pickets fun and exciting. Two weeks ago, the strikers had a pyjama themed picket line as a “wakeup call” to bosses. On May Day the strikers took part in the city’s annual march “in solidarity with international and local trade unions, and the people of Palestine,” they said on Twitter.

The strikers walked out for eight weeks earlier this year, as well as on 4 and 5 May, and Monday, Saturday and Sunday of last week. They planned to walk out again on Saturday and Sunday this week. And starting on Saturday of next week, workers are set to strike for two weeks until 2 June.

Then action is planned for another eight days later in June and six more in July. Cass Burgess, PCS union branch secretary for Liverpool, said, “We showed NML that we had the resources to really take the fight to the employer.” PCS Liverpool Museums said on Twitter, “We’re demanding bosses do the right thing and pay their poor and desperate workers the cost of living payment they so need. “Until they do, see you on the picket lines.”

Action to stop in-office plan

PCS union members at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) began action short of a strike on Wednesday last week. They are combating instructions to restrict working from home. The industrial action will take the form of non-compliance with the new policy, with workers sticking to their previous flexible working policy.

The almost 1,200 ONS employees are based in Newport, Titchfield, London, Darlington, Manchester and Edinburgh. They argue the new push back to the office is contrary to guarantees given to staff members that they could continue to work flexibly. And the decision threatens serious disruption, especially for staff with childcare or other caring responsibilities, and those who live a long way from their designated office.

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