In brief: short industrial reports

Submitted by martin on 20 February, 2009 - 7:43

NHS privatisation, Arriva Trains Wales, London Underground ex-Metronet jobs, Tube cleaners, Irish unions and students.

NHS PRIVATISATION: A massive transformation is taking place in primary care as the division is made between commissioning and providing services.

By April 2009 Primary Care Trusts are expected to have formalised the separation between their providing and commissioning arms and plans are to be in place for the transformation of the providing body into an independent organisation.

What this represents is the further introduction of the market into healthcare — it will mean driving down quality and serious threat to the terms and conditions and the jobs of many thousands of NHS staff who may be forcibly moved into the employ of non-NHS organisations.

At the PCT where I work as the process towards separation steams ahead we have already been presented with a list of services currently provided by the PCT which are at risk as they do not offer “value for money” for the commissioners. Top of the list is a local NHS palliative care centre which offers fantastic care for people in the most difficult of situations. We are told that this service cannot compete with hospices, which are likely to be commissioned to provide palliative care in the community.

Why can it not compete? Because the hospices offer the same for less money — except they don’t, because the savings have been made either in quality of care offered or in the terms and conditions offered to the staff.

The biggest threat for staff is the possible transformation of providing organisations into social enterprises. One or two such organisations already exist, for example Central Surrey Health is a social enterprise created from the existing NHS services.

Social Enterprise — once you peel away all the fluffy management speak designed to sell them to staff — are businesses. They can succeed or fail like private businesses and that fact has serious implications for job security for the workers involved.

Staff employed by the NHS currently work under terms and conditions that although not the best offer some security and a final salary pension scheme. These things are now under threat.

At present you cannot be part of the NHS pension scheme if you are not an NHS employee. A pensions passport is being sought to allow staff who are moved to a social enterprise to retain their NHS pension but this would only apply to existing staff. New staff would be employed under different terms and conditions: a two-tier work force.

These moves must be fought. In my own Unison branch, we organised a vocal campaign amongst staff members against moves to transform our providing branch into a social enterprise. Over 400 staff members turned up to a consultation day and almost unanimously demanded to remain as NHS employees. Our boards have since decided to try for NHS community trust status which represents a victory for our campaign. But the threat of social enterprise remains as it is the second option should a bid for trust status fail.

We are continuing the campaign as well as focusing on recruitment and organisation to try to prepare the union for possible disputes in the future. There are many barriers to organising health workers into a coherent body but this must be done if the fight to defend NHS services is to have any hope of success.

A London healthworker

RAIL: Train drivers working for Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) took unofficial strike action over the weekend of 7-8 February. On ATW Sunday driving is not part of the normal working week and is voluntary. This enables drivers to all refuse to drive on a particular Sunday if they feel they have a point to make.

Their dispute is about pay. ATW drivers are paid £32,168 pa, which is low compared with other Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

Their dispute follows other (now settled) disputes in the company by other grades, also over pay.

Pay negotiations for drivers however have not been settled. Hence the weekend's stay-away.

LONDON UNDERGROUND: 50 RMT members and supporters demonstrated outside London Underground HQ on 11 February to oppose LUL’s plan to sack 1,000 workers formally employed by engineering contractor Metronet but recently brought back in-house. Meanwhile, union-employer talks on the cuts did not even begin due to management’s behaviour.

LUL negotiators showed that they are determined to push through the cuts by trying to weasel out of the ‘jobs for life’ deal previously won by all Metronet employees; refusing to initiate procedures to assess the impact of jobs cuts on health and safety; and even attempting to limit the number of union reps who could attend the meeting. Quite reasonably, the union negotiators therefore refused to proceed.

An ex-Metronet strike committee has been called for Friday 13 February to discuss a ballot for strike action.

The RMT’s London Transport Region is under new management, with the election of the left candidate, longstanding rank-and-file militant Steve Hedley, as the regional organiser. This will be a first test. From the victimisation of reps to the upcoming pay negotiations, the class struggle Underground is hotting up – which makes drawing the line in the sand by stopping this jobs slaughter all the more important.

TUBE CLEANERS: Following last summer’s strike by London Underground cleaners, the attacks on RMT ‘cleaning grade’ activists by ISS, the Tube’s largest cleaning contractor, intensified throughout January. Mary Boakye, RMT rep at the Northumberland Park depot, was outrageously sacked following an accident at work in October, reinstated and then sacked again. Cleaning grades committee secretary Clara Osagiede was cleared up trumped up charges of going home early only after a large protest outside the ISS offices on 8 January.

A well attended public meeting took place on 23 January; on 26, another protest at the ISS offices took place, with supporters occupying them for a time. That day ISS sacked Philip Mambuliya, the cleaning grade chairmen, in connection with a dodgy National Insurance number six years ago, even though there is currently no problem with his immigration status.

This is class warfare! The campaign of protests and direct action will continue; meanwhile the RMT is building support for another a new cleaners’ strike. and

IRELAND: On 4 February, more than ten thousand students marched through Dublin in protest at the Irish governments’ plan to reintroduce higher education fees. Now the Irish trade unions are to hold mass demonstrations across the country on Saturday 21 February in response to the crisis.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has published a 10-point plan for a “fairer approach”. It includes a property tax on second homes, increased taxes on the rich, three years’ protection against repossessions and some tame job creation measures.

Hardly revolutionary, in other words; deeply inadequate. And yet the Irish trade unions’ attempts to mobilise in the crisis, whatever their limitations, put the British unions to shame. Industrial action in a whole series of industries and parts of the public sector looks possible.

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