Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/458/5498
Health workers beat the privateers
WORKERS AT Whipps Cross hospital in east London have won an important battle. They have scored a victory against the privatisers and the service-cutters and shown that organisation and struggle can win.
Their victory is an inspiration to anyone who wants to defend and rebuild the NHS.
The low-paid ancillary workers have shown that persistence and determination can win victories.
They have forced the end of the "two-tier" workforce at the hospital, where workers, employed by Initial in a privatised service were being paid less than NHS and ex-NHS workers. And they have fought for their rights in the NHS 'Agenda for Change' job evaluation and regrading scheme.
Len Hockey, Socialist Party member and joint branch secretary of Whipps Cross UNISON spoke to the socialist about the victory.
"WE HAD a mass meeting on 6 October of the Initial members at Whipps Cross - porters, domestics and switchboard staff. We put an agreement to them and they voted to accept it.
This means that they'll now have pay increases from £5.52 per hour up to £7.47, including London Weighting. They'll now have sick pay from 1 October, where previously they had little or no rights to sick pay.
They'll all have increased annual leave. Some are on as little as 20 days, that will now rise to a new minimum of 27. And those who work in excess of 37 hours a week will have a 37.5-hour week without of loss of pay.
In addition to that we've secured a £750 lump sum payment to reflect part of the Agenda for Change 'higher cost area supplement' for the period April to October.
This is all linked to the deal which we won in 2003, which the employers reneged on and which should have been delivered on 1 April this year. We were forced to take eight days strike action this summer, so winning this and ending the two-tier workforce has been a considerable achievement.
The same group of workers have been involved in three rounds of industrial action within ten years, here at Whipps Cross. We had a strike in 1997 to put down a marker when we were being privatised. 2003 saw the strike to end the two-tier workforce and secured the original agreement and we've had to strike in 2006 to get it implemented.
So it shows when you organise you can win - even when the odds are stacked against you - with workers whose position in British society isn't very good to start with and whose confidence in English language and literacy is low.
This battle has also been in the context of a cost-cutting exercise implemented by government and the hospital trust. So I do think it's a significant dispute and a significant victory.
The workers are pleased of course, it couldn't come quick enough. They're anxious to see the money in their pay packets. People have lost a lot of earnings by striking but we've got a hardship fund of £26,000 which will be distributed soon.
I'd say to any group of workers facing a similar situation: "Get organised give it your best shot."
Of course now we have to fight against the running down of the services at Whipps Cross altogether, which seems increasingly likely. So now we've got another battle on our hands."
- Len Hockey will be speaking at the opening rally at Socialism 2006 on 25 November. He will also be speaking on the rally on the NHS on 26 November.
In The Socialist 12 October 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news