Bosses at Barts NHS begin to crack after strikes

Plus reports of other industrial action such as Barnet council social workers on strike

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Number 2904

Barts Hospital strikes outside NHS England this weekBarts Hospital strikes outside NHS England this week

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

Almost 700 porters, cleaners and facilities workers from the Unite union returned to the picket lines at Barts Health NHS Trust in east London last week. They were scheduled to strike until Sunday, May 19. Barts has for months refused to pay them the £1,655 ‘Covid bonus’ which the government gave to all direct-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 four more days this year and another four next year.

The offer is an insult and is not at all equivalent to the amount of money owed to the workers. However, it is a sign that the strike is hurting the Trust and that senior management is under pressure. On large, bustling picket lines last week, strikers gleefully chanted, “Workers united will never be defeated.”

Around 80 of the strikers took their picket line to NHS England headquarters on Monday this week. More than 200 NHS workers at three Nottinghamshire hospitals are also set to strike over unpaid ‘Covid bonuses’. Members of the GMB union working for subcontractor Medirest at King’s Mill Hospital, Mansfield Community Hospital and Newark Hospital in the Midlands were planning to walk out for 24 hours on Friday.

Porters, cleaners, catering workers, call operators and others are angry after Medirest refused the bonus. Company bosses said the government did not fund the bonus for workers not directly employed by the NHS. But Medirest’s parent company, Compass Group, made profits of more than £2bn last year.

Nurses vote to strike for back pay

Even more health care assistants (HCAs) are joining the fight for the money the NHS is owed. This week, more than 700 workers from the Unison union in Mersey and West Lancashire NHS Trust voted 99.9% to strike to win thousands of pounds. For years, HCAs were wrongly placed in band 2 of the NHS pay scale, despite carrying out clinical duties that should have seen them in band 3. This meant they were paid around £1,000 a year less than it should have.

Most NHS Trusts have now admitted that they have underpaid their staff and regrouped them. But bosses are resisting 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 having to pay outright from 2018. That’s because HCAs there have been prepared to seek long strikes.

Don’t move the nuclear action

More than 500 workers at Nuclear Restoration Services Limited (NRS) based at Dounreay power station in the Higland area of ​​Scotland have been scheduled to strike this week. Unite union members voted 80 percent to strike with a turnout of 92 percent. They rejected an offer of a one-off payment of £500 in addition to a 4.5% pay rise.

Unite canceled two days of action set for May 1 and 2 while workers considered the offer. Workers want a wage increase above inflation. The RPI inflation rate was 11.4 per cent when the pay rise was due in April 2023.

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

Barnet back on the picket line

Barnet mental health social workers in north London walked out again for three weeks on Monday this week. This is in addition to the 37 days of action and will be followed by a four-week retreat starting June 17. Members of the Unison union are battling the Labour-led council over three demands – a safe service, shorter waiting lists and fair pay.

Workers want retainer pay like other social workers, such as those in family and children’s services. They say this will prevent experienced workers from leaving, which has seen waiting lists skyrocket and newer workers stuck with difficult cases and little support. The council decided to bring in private firms to break the strike and replace the long-term council workers.

It hired Flex360 – an outsourcing agency – to provide “additional service provision” during the two-week strike from April 15 to April 26. But that cover was withdrawn after the union pointed out that using agencies to replace strikers was illegal.

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

They say there is no retention problem in the department, but the union knows there is. Unison Nationwide must step up the pressure on Barnet council. That means funding strike payments so workers can stay out longer and using his platform to spur action.

And Barnet Unison must keep up the pressure on the council to make it impossible – and extend the strike where it can.

Messages of support to picket lines (email protected) 8-10am at 2 Bristol Avenue, Colindale, NW9 4EW

Liverpool strikers shut down Mersey museums

Liverpool museum workers are not giving up their fight for living wage. Last week, only three of the National Museums Liverpool’s seven sites were open. NML is the only employer out of 207 that has not paid the £1,500 cost of living payment which had already been earned by civil servants last year.

The strikers, who are part of the PCS union, continue to make their pickets fun and exciting. Two weeks ago, strikers held a pajama-themed picket line as a “wake-up call” to bosses. On May 1, the strikers took part in the city’s annual march “in solidarity with international and local unions and the Palestinian people,” they said on Twitter.

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

The action is then scheduled for another eight days later in June and another six in July. Cass Burgess, secretary of the PCS union branch for Liverpool, said: “We have shown the NML that we have the resources to really take the employer’s fight.” PCS Museums Liverpool said on Twitter: “We are calling on bosses to do the right thing and pay their poor and desperate workers the living wage they so desperately need. “Until they do, see you at the picket line.”

Action to stop the plan at the office

PCS union members at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) began pre-strike action on Wednesday last week. They are fighting instructions to restrict work from home. Industrial action will take the form of not complying with the new policy, with workers following the previous flexible working policy.

The nearly 1,200 ONS staff are based in Newport, Titchfield, London, Darlington, Manchester and Edinburgh. They claim the new push back to the office runs counter to assurances given to staff members that they could continue to work flexibly. And the decision threatens serious disruption, particularly for staff with childcare or other caring responsibilities and those who live far from their designated office.