Low paid health workers at three Yorkshire hospitals are striking to to stop pay cuts and attacks on their jobs—and to fight for the whole NHS, reports Sarah Ensor
The cuts across the NHS will wreck the lives of workers and patients alike if they go ahead. In Yorkshire, 500 low paid women workers are standing up to the Tory assault. And local people and other hospital staff are right behind them.
Last week they walked out for five days. This was just the latest show of strength by the medical secretaries, ward clerks and admin staff at Dewsbury, Pontefract, and Wakefield hospitals.
Their determination to fight job losses and pay cuts is an inspiration, and their confidence is growing. So says Karen Grimaldi, a medical secretary and Unison union steward.
“We feel more confident than when we started last year,” she said.
“We had a strike meeting before our latest strike started that was overflowing. Management were sat outside trying to find out what was happening.
“We ended the meeting with thunderous applause so they could hear what was going on!”
Last September the Mid Yorkshire NHS trust announced that it was going to save £500,000 by targeting nearly 200 low-paid women workers with wage cuts of nearly £3,000.
This is called “downbanding”.
Others were threatened with redundancy despite their extensive training and experience.
Workers in the Unison union struck for one day in early November last year. At the end of November, Unite members joined them, bringing the number of strikers to 500.
That time they walked out for three days. Management tried and failed to victimise strikers before Christmas.
They gave individuals letters saying they were to be investigated for incidents on a picket line.
But they were forced to back down after bosses got a deluge of emails supporting the strikes.
The workers refused to be bullied.
Samantha Hawksley, a medical secretary said, “They thought we’d be scared, that we can’t afford to lose money striking. But we’re standing up, we’re not taking it.”
Two weeks before the latest strike management made an offer. The workers rejected it outright and the strike was on.
Even though negotiations continued between the unions and management, 162 strikers received dismissal and re-engagement letters.
Andrea Busfield, a senior medical secretary in cardiology, got one of the dismissal letters and a new contract.
She said, “Graham Briggs in HR said publically that we’ve had 90 days notice. But the letters say sign by 15 February or you’re sacked.”
When strikers rallied from all three hospitals outside Pinderfields on Thursday of last week they burnt the dismissal letters and demanded the trust board come outside to talk to them.
When the board refused the strikers walked into their meeting.
They demanded to know why if the trust had to save £500,000 from medical secretaries and admin workers when the board paid £2,647,252.80 to Ernst and Young management consultants last December.
The board chair, Jules Preston, said that it was “not an interaction, you can listen to our debate.” The strikers walked out in disgust.
The Trust’s director of finance Bob Chadwick, has said that that every NHS trust would have to make 4-5 percent savings every year. This means more job cuts every year.
One worker said, “But the hospital doesn’t get paid for so many of the procedures that we carry out. It could be solvent.
“We’ve told management but they don’t listen to us. Hysterectomies which cost £3,000 are written down as hysteroscopies which cost £200.
Management have admitted to staff that the emergency cover during the strike is the normal level of staffing they see in future.
Samantha Hawksley and Karen James were deeply unimpressed by the board.
“It’s disgusting, Stephen Eames the chief executive sat there smirking,” said Karen.
“How much money was sat round that table? We get £9 or £12 an hour for seven night shifts in a row and I’ve been here 25 years.”
Samantha added, “We have got families. What they’re taking away is peanuts to them but a huge amount to us. We’re paying for their mismanagement.
“They think we’re scared, that we can’t lose money because there are so many single parents.”
On Friday local trade unionists and supporters joined pickets at a rally. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis paid a visit too.
When he asked what he could do to help the dispute, the strikers demanded a ballot of all members across the trust. Prentis agreed.
The workers went on to a rally in Wakefield town hall.
Banners from the FBU fire union branch, Leeds trades council, Keep Our NHS Public and Unite the Resistance decorated the room in a show of support for the strike.
Dave, a steward from Dewsbury hospital congratulated strikers on the size of their pickets.
He went on to put the dispute into the context of attacks on accident and emergency wards like in Lewisham, south London.
He called on Unison and other health unions to call a united strike against privatisation, pay cuts and the dismantling of the NHS.