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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 October 2005

Kick the fat cats out of the NHS

For a minimum wage of 8 per hour and a 35-hour week for all health service workers

DIRECTORS OF the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, some already on as much as 140,000, have been awarded an 8% pay rise! This compares with 3% for workers on the 'front line'.

A Leicester health worker

The huge pay rise for the directors has caused anger amongst all NHS workers - but it is especially hard to stomach for those who are only on between 9,000 and 13,000. The starting wage for a nurse is also too low - only around 19,000.

Maintenance workers, clerical workers, caterers, cleaners, security guards, nurses and all the other low-paid workers in the NHS perform a valuable service - without them the hospitals would not function. In return they should be paid a decent living wage.

Some of these workers have even been downgraded recently. This is because of the national regrading scheme, Agenda for Change, which Socialist Party members in the health trade unions argued against, precisely for this reason. There are more than 300 low-paid NHS workers in medical records and maintenance across the three major Leicester hospitals who have had their pay frozen because of Agenda for Change.

Whilst it's true that some sections of workers have been upgraded and this is to be welcomed, UNISON and the other health unions should not accept the downgrading of workers whose pay is already very low. This downgrading must be challenged and defeated - using strike action if necessary.

Even those workers who have not been downgraded are scathing of the 'Agenda for Change' review process that makes them justify their job to a review panel.

New Labour have increased fat cat pay at the top of the NHS, and maintained low pay at the bottom. They have also started to hand whole sections of the NHS over to private companies. Cleaners, caterers, maintenance, and soon the buildings themselves, will all be in private hands! They are also promoting the development of a stronger private health sector which is undermining the NHS.

To stop the break-up of the health service, the trade unions much act decisively, not only on the industrial field, but also in the political arena. We need to build a new workers' party, a party that defends public services and fights against low pay. This is the only way that a serious challenge to New Labour can be mounted!

Blunkett hits sick and disabled

NEW LABOUR'S work and pensions secretary, David Blunkett, has advised hundreds of thousands of people on incapacity benefit to stop watching daytime TV, get on their bikes and start looking for work.

Blunkett aims to cut the figure of 2.7 million people on Incapacity Benefit. But a recent survey by the GMB union shows that "there is a direct link between high employment rates and low benefit claimant rates, and vice versa."

"Where there are jobs," they say, "there are low claims rates. The task for the government in seeking to reduce the number of claimants is to promote the creation of more jobs."

Blunkett talks of making people "see work as the best route out of welfare" but, an advice centre worker in South Yorkshire told the socialist, the government is doing no such thing. "They're attacking one of the most vulnerable groups in society. And Blunkett has no idea of the reality in places like this.

"South Yorkshire used to be a thriving industrial area - with high employment but also high pollution. These were dangerous jobs where employers would often rather pay fines than make things safer and healthier.

"Then when Thatcher destroyed jobs, you had many people who suffered from diseases like emphysema, from injuries received at work and also from conditions like depression. Many of them are now on Incapacity Benefit.

"The redundancy money that many people got has now gone. It's soul-destroying. Blunkett's plans would attack sick, disabled and vulnerable people."

Disability groups and trade unions are worried at the effects of Blunkett's proposals, particularly if there is an economic downturn.

Market pressures ruining the NHS

THE HEALTH service's 'spending watchdog', the Audit Commission says that opening up the NHS to market pressures is destabilising hospitals and putting emergency services at risk.

The Audit Commission says a new system of payment by results - where NHS Trusts are rewarded directly for every job done - was so extreme that whole hospital departments, particularly Accident and Emergency departments, could be forced to close.

But every week there are new protests at policies that cause massive debts and put market pressures and the chasing of profit before health care. Andrew Walton reports from Leicestershire.

MELTON, RUTLAND and Harborough Trust is 6 million in the red - they plan to turn patients away from their hospitals. Leicester Partnership Trust is 4 million in the red. To meet the shortfall, hospital bosses stopped hiring new staff and were going to close two units for mentally ill patients, totalling 60 beds.

However, after patients, their families, staff and the UNISON union protested management backed down - for now. After a public "consultation exercise," decisions will be made about these provisions, which care for vulnerable elderly and chronically mentally ill people and employ 110 staff.

This is only a temporary victory and we need to prepare for another battle to save the units. Unfortunately, Leicester's track record of 'consultation exercises' isn't good.

The local council are steam-rollering through cuts in special school provision against the community's wishes. They are introducing City academies which will run in the interests of big business and not of children's education. We should not let local hospitals carry out the same cuts and privatisation as Leicester's schools.

Yet Labour claim to be spending more than ever on the health service. Where is the money going? Into the pockets of private firms, who are taking over much of the management of NHS Trusts. Their only interest is in making profit, which will mean cuts to patient care.

The most vulnerable groups: the long-term ill, patients needing regular appointments and low-paid hospital staff will take the brunt of cutbacks to recoup budget deficits and meet government targets.

We need good quality, publicly funded healthcare for all. That's why we fight for a socialist society, run for the benefit of the majority rather than a few wealthy individuals, that would deliver decent quality public services.

Pay deal for privatised staff

ON 6 OCTOBER the Department of Health, trade unions, the National Health Service (NHS) employers and NHS private contractors signed an agreement over the pay and conditions of contracted-out workers in the NHS.

Brian Loader, UNISON NHS logistics, personal capacity

We welcome the pay increases for many of these workers. The agreement covers staff in cleaning, catering, portering, hotel services, switchboard etc, who have had to manage on the minimum wage during successive Tory and Labour governments.

These negotiations had stalled but have been driven forward by the increasing organisation and industrial militancy of NHS trade unionists across the country. Long battles by low-paid workers, like those at the Whipps Cross hospital in east London and in Bolton, have won pay increases for privatised staff.

But the agreement will not alleviate poverty pay and conditions in the health service. Although it will close the gap between NHS staff and contracted-out staff undertaking the same tasks.

The agreement still allows the contractors to phase in the additional payments and holidays at their pace over the next five months and privatised staff will not get access to the NHS pensions scheme.

Also, the agreement excludes staff employed by private contractors in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, staff employed by Independent Treatment Centres and those involved in hard facilities management - maintenance of land, buildings and equipment.

From 1 October 2006 the terms and conditions of contracted out staff should be no less favourable than those applying to directly employed NHS staff covered by Agenda For Change. This has to be agreed with the trust and the trade unions. There is a dispute resolution procedure, which could result in the trust terminating a contract with the contractor.

The trade unions will have to be organised in every area to make sure this agreement is implemented in full.

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In The Socialist 13 October 2005:

Asian earthquake disaster: Poor abandoned again

Socialists killed in Kalam

Appeal from the Trade Union Rights Campaign

Kick the fat cats out of the NHS

Socialism 2005: Our big weekend of discussion and debate!

United action needed to defend pensions

Kinnock repeats bitter attack

Clear Oliver Campbell's name

Venezuela: Socialism back on the agenda

Sri Lanka: USP launches election campaign

Peace in Algeria?

Germany: Grand coalition against workers


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