OUTSOURCED WORKERS IN THE HEART OF WHITEHALL FIGHT BACK



PCS members employed by, the facilities management contractor ISS at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have yet again voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Many readers will recall the historic strikes these workers led in 2019, not only undertaking the first ever indefinite strike action of outsourced workers in Whitehall, but crucially winning improved pay and terms and conditions.

“Our members have been battling to get the basic Covid-19 safety measures.”



Despite the civil service, and ISS’s, performative statements that “Black Lives Matter” outsourced workers have not seen much evidence of that on the ground. As we have sadly seen across the economy, Black and migrant workers have borne the brunt of the negative effects of the pandemic, including devastating higher death rates. Our members have been battling to get the basic Covid-19 safety measures, despite the PM’s statements that cleaners and security guards are the heroes of the Covid crisis.

“They are heroes and heroes deserve to be safe.”



PCS Union does think they are heroes and heroes deserve to be safe, to be paid properly, to have job security and to not be treated as second-class workers. That is why members have voted for strike action and are fighting to breakdown the two-tier workforce that plagues Whitehall and be rightfully valued for their outstanding work throughout the pandemic.

The Government has called for a jobs-first recovery and a high wage economy. However, they are refusing to instruct their contractor, ISS, to adhere to this. Our members are fighting back and saying loud and clear BLACK LIVES MATTER.

To keep up to date with the latest on the dispute and how you can show support give @BEIS_PCS_LS a follow on Twitter.


In solidarity,

Kate

A Brush With Fire and Rehire

Engineers at Brush Electrical Machine have committed to the company throughout their tenure ranging from 2 years service to over 50 years.

They have worked through the pandemic as key workers and given continued support to the business and its customers.

“a comprehensive massacre of terms and conditions”



They have worked away from family and even been told to travel to different countries during pandemic, unvaccinated and with little contingency in place, resulting in some engineers contracting COVID and passing it to their infant children.

Brush’s stance during pandemic has been driven by a want to save money. Not a need to save money due to sustainability. There had been no evidence given thus far instead a comprehensive massacre of terms and conditions worse on every part from basic salary, pension contributions, overtime, holidays and offshore conditions. Resulting in an annual loss of £10,000 to £15,000 per engineer.

During this time the company have repaid furlough payments to the government (they cannot pay dividends and bonuses if the company has accepted furlough), given out pay rises to all but the service engineers including themselves, along with bonuses.

“In all likelihood it could be you next”


This behaviour should be made illegal as, without any evidence or morality the company – or ANY company – has the ability to force these conditions upon us all. We are fighting to stop it but in all likelihood it could be you next.

“We’d rather be teaching!”


Beal High School is the largest secondary school in England. It is run by an academy trust that treats educators as costs whilst claiming to have “compassion”.

Staff are being punished for being sick

Unlike local authority schools, Beal High School’s Sickness Policy treats sickness absence as a capability or a disciplinary issue. Instead of compassion, staff who are ill are treated punitively and fear being fired from their jobs. Victims of abuse, chronic pain and even pregnant women have been subjected to the capability procedure for daring to be off sick.


Kevin Courtney, Joint-General Secretary of the National Education Union described the school and its policy as “unique and never seen anywhere else”. No other school uses a sickness policy that branches off into capability and disciplinary procedures.

Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint-General Secretary, attends the picket at Beal High School, Redbridge, London

Two Tier Policy

Beal High School also has a two-tier workforce: since 2016, new members of staff have had their sick-pay entitlement slashed and are on significantly worse working conditions. As a result, recruitment and retention will be impacted negatively in the long-term.
Teachers and support staff never take industrial action lightly, and it is only ever done as a last resort. However, for three months after the issues were raised by the union, the school management dragged its feet, refusing to engage in a meaningful way. This approach has backfired on the school, angering the parents who are now forming a group to support the educators.

Management Hubris

It’s not exactly clear why a school that wants to remain “Outstanding” in an OFSTED inspection would behave in a way that eventually drives a large number of its staff to walk out in protest. This can only rationally be interpreted as signs of hubris from a management team that had become used to not seeing its decisions challenged, having failed to meet with the school union reps since 2019.
In Beal High School educators are valued less than in other schools of the London Borough of Redbridge. If the issues remain unresolved, Beal High School will have high staff-turnover as it will be an undesirable workplace for educators. In the long-term, this will have a negative impact on students in one of the most densely populated areas in the UK. Educators’ working conditions are our children’s learning conditions: we need to protect both!

Virtual strike ends in agreement

On Thursday 6th March, following a campaign that included five days of national strike action at FE colleges across the Scotland, EIS-FELA and Colleges Scotland (the Employers’ representative body) formally ratified an agreement bringing an end to the national dispute over the replacement of lecturers with instructor/assessor type roles.

Forth Valley College, through offering over twenty-seven lecturers redundancy or an instructor/assessor type role.



Although instructor/assessor type roles have existed in the Further Education sector for some time, in more recent years they have evolved in some colleges and replaced lecturers in the delivery of learning. The way this has taken place varies between different colleges; with some replacing lecturer roles following those posts being vacated, or through voluntary severance, and in one instance, at Forth Valley College, through offering over twenty-seven lecturers redundancy or an instructor/assessor type role.

Members up and down the country engaged a large scale ‘virtual’ strike campaign



With lockdown restrictions still remaining in place, and much of the FE workforce working at home, EIS-FELA members up and down the country engaged a large scale ‘virtual’ strike campaign, taking to social media and utilising video conferencing to build a vibrant and effective campaign of strike action.

With physical picketing limited by covid-19 safety restrictions, ‘virtual pickets’ were organised across college branches using video conferencing, allowing for large numbers of branch members to show their support for the strike, solidarity with each other and receive updates from branch and national EIS-FELA officials. As the campaign went on, branches joined together in combined and regional pickets to continue to evidence their collective strength and adaptability to a challenging context.

Weekly online rallies and union meetings were held via Facebook live, with EIS-FELA members attending in their hundreds, in increasing numbers, to hear from their national negotiators, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan, colleagues from the wider trade union movement and other supporters of the campaign.

Every FE student in Scotland deserves to be taught by a lecturer.



The EIS-FELA membership also maintained a strong presence on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, ensuring that their message was heard loud and clear by both their employers and the wider public: that colleges need lecturers and every FE student in Scotland deserves to be taught by a lecturer.

With strike action ongoing and the strength of the membership very clear, EIS-FELA negotiators continued to attempt to find an acceptable resolution to the dispute. Over several challenging NJNC meetings, deadlock remained and again EIS-FELA was pushed into another statutory ballot – this time on Action Short of Strike (ASOS) to be combined with ongoing strike action.

With the very real prospect of FE students across Scotland not gaining their results, after an already extremely challenging academic year, progress towards a resolution finally began in late April. Following a number of meetings and lengthy discussion, another agreement was struck on 23rd April and two of the three planned strike days the following week were cancelled, in an act of good faith by EIS-FELA, for ratification of the agreement.

Both the EIS-FELA national executive and the Employers’ Association unanimously ratified the agreement, which received formal sign off at NJNC on 6th May.

There can be no doubt that the strong, creative and resolute industrial action undertaken by the EIS-FELA membership across the country resulted in the outcome achieved at NJNC through negotiation. The actions of EIS-FELA members, in the most challenging of contexts, directly strengthened the hand of the national negotiators that secured the agreement. In the unity of the EIS-FELA membership, came the strength that was required to bring an end to this dispute.

The height of betrayal – The Thurrock Bin Strike

The reason for this vote was the council’s plan to bring in a series of drastic contractual changes that would leave these workers between £1,000 and £4,000 per year worse off. Existing terms and conditions around bank holiday pay, overtime, and vehicle checks allowance are to be scrapped in a process the council calls ‘modernisation’, a corporate phrase deployed to mask the reality of a race to the bottom.

“While the lower-paid key workers are suffering life-changing attacks on their livelihood, the senior council staff devising and implementing these cuts are seeing no real change to their working conditions or pay”


Alongside refuse workers, domestic care workers (represented by the GMB union) are also seeing similar cuts to their remuneration. To add insult to injury, while the lower-paid key workers are suffering life-changing attacks on their livelihood, the senior council staff devising and implementing these cuts are seeing no real change to their working conditions or pay.
At one stage, Thurrock had the highest infection rates for Covid-19 in the UK, and numerous refuse and care workers contracted the virus – some becoming seriously ill. Despite the rhetoric locally and nationally about our key workers being supported, the council brass who spent the past year working safely from home were conspiring to rob them at the earliest opportunity.

As workers began to hear about this plan, needless to say they were incensed. One remarked to me that it was ‘the height of betrayal,’ and many felt that their hard work over the past year was flung back in their faces by council mandarins who hadn’t even bothered to inform them in person.
Instead, Thurrock Council is running a campaign of disinformation. Union officials were prohibited from visiting the depot (not because of Covid regulations but because of ‘incendiary language’ being used at meetings), workers were given leaflets accusing the union of lying and maintaining no pay cuts were planned, and most farcical of all, Unite was accused of ‘doctoring’ the original cuts proposal that was provided by the council themselves.

“One remarked to me that it was ‘the height of betrayal,’ and many felt that their hard work over the past year was flung back in their faces”


Due to the overwhelming public support for these workers and the acknowledgement of the difficult job they do, the council won’t honestly state in public that they are leaving them thousands of pounds worse off. It is currently mired in its own scandal over a series of highly-controversial speculation deals and it’s clear that the last thing the council want is the suggestion that they are passing these costs onto those who deliver vital services in the borough.

Livability or Liability? Staff strike over new contract.

Victoria school teachers, including myself, have taken 3 days of strike actionat our special school in Poole, owned and run by Livability. We have had our sickness and maternity conditions massively eroded in an attempt to bring the whole of Livability under one contract. That is around 1700 employees, including care staff, cleaners, teachers, physiotherapists, and other professionals under one contract.

“Under threat of dismissal, teachers at Victoria Education Centre had little choice but to sign new contracts at the end of the last term”

It is claimed that this is an attempt to save money. However, when pressed Livability have stated that teachers do not cost them very much in sickness, as very few have time off and we do not use cover teachers, due to the nature of the school – a special needs school, catering for students with a wide range of abilities. Livability continues to insist this contract is suitable for teachers, even though it is not the same as the nationally agreed ‘burgundy book’ conditions.

Under threat of dismissal, teachers at Victoria Education Centre had little choice but to sign new contracts at the end of the last term.

We love Victoria school and we love the students we work with, so it is vital that we future proof the school and the standards for our students and staff. The new contract would not be attractive to many teachers and we believe this will make it hard to recruit and retain experienced staff.

“There are viable solutions to resolving our dispute and the employer now needs to enter into meaningful negotiations”

Strike action will continue at the school after the Easter holidays unless Livability are prepared to join in with discussions with the NEU and NASUWT about our teaching contracts and are willing to bring them in line with or closer to the burgundy book conditions.

There are viable solutions to resolving our dispute and the employer now needs to enter into meaningful negotiations.

To support striking teachers at Victoria Education Centre:

Hands off Moulsecoomb – The sequel

On Wednesday 24th March, I will be standing on a limited picket line, outside our marvellous Moulsecoomb Primary School. To be honest, feeling a little shell-shocked, confused and battered as to how this metaphoric movie managed to turn into such a protest film.

The original film was about an amazing school that constantly overcame challenges, whilst catering to a very vulnerable and impoverished local community. The onslaught of budget cuts due to reduced class sizes led to an Ofsted ‘Inadequate’ and the academies sniffed us out.

The prequel movie, tells a brave David and Goliath tale, where the Moulsecoomb community refused to yield to big business suits that arrogantly attempted to ignore local opinion. Three academy trusts were dissuaded due to: strikes, marches, public meetings and an incredible social media campaign. A magnificent (yet slightly embarrassing) finale, for the last super-head who wrote an unprofessionally childish article to the papers of his decision to retreat, rather than inform the government and local authority.

Now, we face an impossible sequel. What an appalling, disgusting, cynical and cruel attack, to restart the process of acadamisation as we return after lockdown. We should be focussed on the emotional well-being of our communities at this point in the pandemic. Let us be quite clear – all the parents, the school staff, every school and college in Brighton and Hove, the local council, our MP’s, reject their requests.

We have worked throughout the lockdown and this is how we are treated. I grade Gavin Williamson ‘inadequate’ and look at this process with the derision it deserves. One of the Ofsted inspectors that rated our school ‘inadequate’ actually works for Pioneer Academy that now tries to take us over.

Unfortunately this is not a movie, nor a box-set, it is really happening, at a local community school near you.

By Calvin Cummiskey, NEU Rep at Moulsecoomb Primary School

Nurses leading the fight for safety

NEARLY 800 NURSES at a private for-profit hospital in the city of Worcester, the second most populous in the US state of Massachusetts, launched an open-ended strike at the start of the morning shift on Monday 8th March. The health-workers, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), which organises among registered nurses and other health professionals, walked out after MNA representatives had failed to reach agreement with St Vincent’s Hospital management over a range of key issues, most crucially staffing ratios. Nurses have had to deal with five and occasionally more patients during a shift and the MNA has long argued for a maximum of four per shift.

St Vincent’s is part of Tenet Healthcare, a corporation based in Dallas, Texas and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In the final quarter of 2020, the company’s profits reached $414 million, while total revenue the previous year topped $18 billion.

The action is the largest strike in the Massachusetts healthcare sector since a one-day walkout in July 2017 by some 1,200 MNA members at the Tufts (University) Medical Center in Boston’s Chinatown district. The current strike marks only the second large-scale action at St Vincent’s in more than 20 years. In 2001 nursing staff struck for 49 days in a dispute, which eventually secured the union’s first collective bargaining agreement at the Worcester hospital.

Against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, which has hit Massachusetts especially hard (more than 16,000 deaths in a population of just under 6.9 million), nurses themselves have lodged over 600 complaints about inadequate staffing jeopardising standards of patient care and safety. Having voted overwhelmingly to strike in early February over the question of staffing, scores of nurses, backed by members of a Teamsters local, defied the lingering cold of a New England winter to picket the hospital. In response, hospital management have recruited agency staff to break the strike at a cost of around $5.4 million for the first week.

The MNA’s communications director, David Schildmeier, describes Worcester as “a union-friendly city” and the nurses have received support from leading Democratic Party politicians including the region’s Congressional representative Jim McGovern and the state’s two US senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren with Markey joining a protest organised by the MNA outside the hospital last month.

For more information about the dispute: https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11987

Pay up Mitie

We have worked on the frontline as porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff at Cumberland Infirmary during this pandemic. We have put ourselves at risk to serve patients meals, clean wards- keeping them safe from infection and do the jobs which allow nurses and doctors to deliver vital care.

We have worked on the frontline as porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff at Cumberland Infirmary during this pandemic. We have put ourselves at risk to serve patients meals, clean wards- keeping them safe from infection and do the jobs which allow nurses and doctors to deliver vital care.

We have frequently worked weekends and night shifts- spending time away from our families- as we often have to working in an NHS hospital. Our colleagues who are employed by the National Health Service receive enhancement payments for working these unsocial hours.

This extra money was agreed over a decade ago as part of the NHS Agenda for Change pay deal. It includes enhanced rates – such as time-and-a-half and double time – for working at the weekends or through the night.

We have discovered that our employer Mitie has failed to pay us enhancements for unsocial hours for over ten years. We are thousands of pounds out of pocket compared to our colleagues who do the same jobs within the NHS. We are ONE NHS- why should we be paid less than colleagues doing exactly the same jobs?

Our employer Mitie has repeatedly claimed that it has never received funding to pay us unsocial hours payments. But North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust (NCIC) claim that they handed over a “substantial sum” to Health Management Carlisle- the investment firm which owns the hospital- many years ago.


Worryingly, Health Management Carlisle has denied ever receiving any payments from the Trust relating to unsocial hours payments. We don’t know who has the money, but we do know that we have been short changed for over ten years.
This would be a bitter pill to swallow at any time but we are even more upset to learn of our underpayment as we are giving everything to keep people safe during this pandemic. Where is our money Mitie?

By Anonymous Unison members

Trouble on the buses

Drivers at Go North West’s Queen’s Road Bus Depot are on all-out strike from Sunday after Unite members there voted 83% in favour of strike action against the company’s decision to fire and rehire them on new contracts that would reduce sick pay and wages.

Go North West are set to bring in scab labour via coach contractors once the strike gets underway next week to break the strike. The wider movement must continue to provide support where possible to help striking workers win!

When the all-out strike action begins on Sunday 28 February Unite will be mounting strictly socially distanced, Covid secure picket lines at the company’s Queens Road depot (Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 8UT).

By Colin Hayden