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Swindon hospital workers fight bullying
A Unison member.
More than 300 people, mainly Carillion employees and their families, marched in Swindon on 17 March, in a lively and noisy demonstration. They were protesting against the bullying and harassment they have been subjected to by the company.
Carillion is one of the original PFI contract holders for Swindon's Great Western Hospital. It is a private company contracted by the NHS to provide domestic and cleaning services. Its employees are mainly women originally from Goa in India.
Paulo Fernades, a GMB union rep at the Swindon Hospital, told the Socialist: "The management don't recognise our chosen union even though the GMB is the biggest union among the Carillion workers. Now the government want to privatise the NHS as well. For everyone bullying will be worse and so will pay."
I spoke to some of the workers, who told me managers at Carillion had strongly hinted to them that favourable decisions regarding shifts and holiday allocation could be had in return for 'gifts'. Some staff said they had their working hours reduced with no notice or negotiation whatsoever.
Other workers told me that when they had first turned to Unison to help them they got little support, so they approached the GMB instead. While there were a lot of local members of Unison with their banner on the march and they expressed their total solidarity, the union's regional office has complained that GMB are 'poaching their members'.
Joining the march were members of Wiltshire FBU, Unite, NUT, CWU and others. At the closing rally in the shopping centre, Andy Newman of GMB explicitly accused Carillion of 'bribery and corruption'. According to the GMB, the senior Carillion HR manager involved in the Swindon dispute was the HR manager who dealt with the blacklisting organisation that led to the exclusion of thousands of trade unionists, many of whom are construction workers, from employment (see below).
Among other speakers was Anne Snelgrove, Labour's prospective candidate for Swindon. She didn't mention that the New Labour governments' privatisation policies opened the door to unscrupulous firms like Carillion.
The Carillion workers are angry and determined. They have already been on strike earlier this year, taking action in three 24-hour strikes and a three-day stoppage in February and a five-day stoppage earlier this month. 17 March was the start of a seven-day strike.
They have also held demonstrations outside Virgin Telecom, Zurich Insurance and Nationwide Building Society who, the GMB alleges, have all been supplying workers to cover the strike days. It would be great if the courage being showed by the workers was matched by all our union leaders.
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