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6 September 2007

Agenda for cheap

Sheffield Northern General Hospital bulk stores strike

"Agenda for cheap". That's how one Unison steward described the wage cuts being imposed by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust on bulk store workers at Northern General Hospital.

Alistair Tice and Edd Mustill

Eleven bulk stores staff have now taken three one-day strikes against management's plans to cut long-established bonus and attendance payments which make up about 20% of their wages. After the first strike, bosses made a new "offer".

Striker Gary Sellars explained: "They said we could keep our bonuses but we would have our pay frozen until new staff on Agenda for Change contracts caught us up. That would mean a pay freeze for 8-10 years! And they want us to work three to five hours unpaid overtime every week. That would take us back to a 40 to 42 hour week, after years of fighting for a shorter working week."

Another striker, Dennis, summed up their attitude to this "offer" with a one finger sign and "up yours!"

Marie said that the strikes were hitting hard. "You can tell by the workload and complaints from the wards, and the backlog building up - we're about 112 days behind, more after today. We're out for two days next week, that means that wards won't get a trolley from Saturday to Wednesday. Some auxiliary nurses have refused to come to bulk stores on strike days."

Monday's dinnertime solidarity rally was attended by about 40 hospital workers. Jean Batter, a domestic, explained why she was supporting: "If these lose, they'll come for us next. We've already lost our bonus. They'll want to cut staff on the shop floor."

Dick Howard, a biomedical engineer in Amicus, said: "There's a lot of small groups of workers in specialised departments, so if they can pick one group off they'll go for the rest."

These wage cuts will only save the Trust around 30,000 a year, less than a quarter of the salary of the aptly named chief executive Mr Cash. It's clear that the trust are trying to bully the bulk stores staff to intimidate other departments into accepting cuts. They must not be allowed to get away with this.

The strikers are determined not to give in, they can't afford to. Next week they're starting two-day strikes.

This is a winnable dispute. The eleven strikers need messages of support and donations to the hardship fund.

Please send them to: Unison NGH, Unison office, Vickers Corridor, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, Sheffield S5 7AU, or email Unison branch secretary [email protected]