Union News (13th of July 2023)

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Welcome to Union News, your weekly podcast from the UK labour and Trade Union movement. In this edition: Midwife Shortages in UK Maternity Services Pose Significant Challenges, Warns Royal College of Midwives, Workers Left Jobless as Empire Cinema Chain Shuts Down Without Warning, Tube Workers to Stage Rolling Strikes Over Jobs and Conditions on London Underground, Construction Worker Deaths Surge to 45 in a Year, Exceeding Five-Year Average, Barts Health NHS Trust Workers Vote on Industrial Action Over Pay and Staffing Dispute, Junior Doctors walkout, and finally, Teachers vote for Action. Text is by Pat Harrington and music is by Tim Bragg.

Midwife Shortages in UK Maternity Services Pose Significant Challenges, Warns Royal College of Midwives

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has issued a warning about the severe impact of midwife shortages on women, emphasizing the historical lack of appropriate investment in maternity services. According to the RCM’s latest report, if the number of NHS midwives in England had increased at the same rate as the overall health service workforce since the last general election, there would be no shortage of midwives. Instead, the report reveals a shortfall of 2,500 full-time midwife staff, highlighting the need for an additional 3,100 midwives in the NHS. The report explains that the increasing complexity of needs, such as higher rates of obesity during pregnancy and a rise in older women giving birth, has placed additional demands on maternity services. Combined with a growing birthrate, the staffing levels of midwives have not kept pace with these demands, resulting in compromised quality and safety of care. Birte Harlev-Lam, the RCM’s executive director midwife, stresses the importance of addressing the challenges outlined in the report. She emphasizes that the government must demonstrate unwavering commitment to resolving this crisis by providing the necessary resources for maternity services, both in the present and the future. The RCM highlights the need for a renewed focus on staff retention, including measures such as increased flexibility in working options, improved support for learning and development, and addressing poor workplace cultures.

In response, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care acknowledges the efforts made to enhance the quality of care for mothers and babies within the NHS. They mention an additional investment of £165 million per year aimed at expanding the maternity workforce and improving neonatal services

Workers Left Jobless as Empire Cinema Chain Shuts Down Without Warning

The bosses at the Empire Cinema chain made a calculated move to dissolve their company into administration, but they didn’t forget about their workers. Prior to the closure announcement, managers at the Walthamstow branch organized a “special meeting” under the pretext of discussing insurance matters. However, it turned out to be a trick. While the staff was gathered in one part of the building, administrators secretly brought in locksmiths to change the locks and padlock the fire exits, preventing the workers from returning to the site or taking action to save their jobs. The following morning, the employees arrived at the cinema only to find that their keys were useless. A note on the door informed them that Empire had shut down and any unpaid wages would have to be claimed from the administrators or the government.

One of the affected workers, Peter, revealed that he had been promised a role in a new cinema in Basildon, Essex, but the whole thing turned out to be a lie. The majority of the affected workers were young, aged between 18 and 25, and all the managers at the Walthamstow branch were also fired. Peter expressed his frustration, noting that the managers at the head office had received pay raises and were not facing the same hardships. He questioned the disregard for their legal right to receive at least 30 days’ notice of possible redundancy, and given that five other cinemas were closed simultaneously, argued that the notice period should be extended to 45 days, as over 100 people were affected. In addition to the Walthamstow branch, Empire Cinemas closed five other cinemas in Bishop’s Stortford, Catterick Garrison, Sunderland, Swindon, and Wigan. The already-closed cinema in Sutton Coldfield will not reopen. However, the remaining sites in Birmingham, Clydebank, High Wycombe, Ipswich, and Sutton, as well as the two Tivoli-branded venues in Bath and Cheltenham, will continue trading while the administrators search for a buyer.

Tube Workers to Stage Rolling Strikes Over Jobs and Conditions on London Underground

The RMT union has announced a week of rolling strikes on the London Underground, scheduled to take place from 23 to 28 July. This marks a significant escalation in the ongoing dispute over jobs, conditions, and pensions. Workers, represented by the RMT, are taking a stand against Transport for London’s (TfL) decision to cut positions and implement new rosters with fewer staff, despite opposition from the union. These cuts not only make work more difficult and unsafe for station staff but also result in a poorer service for passengers. Employees have shared their frustrations regarding the impact of the cuts. With stations increasingly operating at minimum staffing levels, there are instances where staff are unable to assist vulnerable passengers, as they are unable to leave their designated areas. TfL has also announced plans for significant cuts to managerial positions and changes to staff work areas, while refusing to guarantee the preservation of the existing pension scheme. Critics argue that TfL’s claim of financial constraints due to the pandemic is questionable, as its own figures demonstrate a surge in fare income. For example, in the first four weeks of the financial year, TfL generated £380 million in income, surpassing the figures of previous years. Additionally, passenger numbers have been on the rise, with record-breaking usage of the Elizabeth Line and millions of Tube and bus journeys. Despite this, TfL has granted substantial pay rises to its top-level management. Workers are infuriated by TfL’s mismanagement of funds while claiming an inability to maintain sufficient staffing levels. They argue that these cuts are unnecessary and dangerous, and that there is enough money available to prevent them.

The rolling strikes are set to commence on 23 July, with different grades of workers striking on different days. The aim is to cause maximum disruption while minimizing financial loss for the striking employees. However, the most significant impact would be achieved if all workers went on strike collectively, according to the RMT representatives.

Construction Worker Deaths Surge to 45 in a Year, Exceeding Five-Year Average

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the number of construction workers killed in accidents on construction sites rose significantly from 29 to 45 in the previous year. This figure exceeded the five-year average of 37 annual deaths. Construction accounted for one-third of the 135 workers killed in work-related accidents across all industries in the UK during the 12-month period ending in March 2023. The construction industry was followed by agriculture, forestry, and fishing, which had 21 deaths, and manufacturing with 15 deaths. The HSE noted that the most common fatal accidents at work included falls from a height (40), being struck by a moving object (29), and being struck by a moving vehicle (20), which together accounted for approximately two-thirds of fatal injuries to workers in 2022/23. In addition, official figures revealed that 2,268 individuals died from Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by past exposure to asbestos, in 2021.

Barts Health NHS Trust Workers Vote on Industrial Action Over Pay and Staffing Dispute

Over 1,000 workers at Barts Health NHS Trust have commenced voting today to decide whether to initiate industrial action in response to concerns regarding low pay and understaffing. These workers include cleaners, caterers, porters, security guards, ward hosts, and domestic staff, who were transferred from private firm Serco to NHS employment last year, following protests and strikes led by the Unite union. According to Unite, workers who transitioned to NHS terms after March 31 have been denied a £1,655 lump sum that is part of the NHS pay agreement. Additionally, a considerable number of employees are facing financial losses due to the NHS disregarding their length of service during their employment with Serco. The trust has also been attempting to pay these workers lower overtime rates, exacerbating their financial struggles. Tabusam Ahmed, regional officer for Unite, emphasized that the union will not tolerate Barts Health NHS Trust paying workers, who are no longer outsourced, less money than other NHS staff. Ahmed accused Barts of perpetuating a decade-long history of underpaying these workers and urged the trust to rectify the situation. It is crucial, according to Unite, for the trust to cease cutting corners and fulfil its obligation to pay workers what they are owed, including those in the NHS bank. The outcome of the voting will determine whether industrial action will be taken by the affected workers.

Junior Doctors Walkout

Junior doctors in England have started the longest walkout in the history of the health service. This strike is not only crucial for healthcare workers but also for those who want to save the NHS from the impact of budget cuts by the Conservative Party. On Thursday, thousands of medics across various departments, including A&E, began a five-day strike, as part of an ongoing battle for fairer health service pay. Given that junior doctors make up a significant portion of the medical workforce, this action will severely disrupt many NHS services. The Tory health secretary, Steve Barclay, has refused to engage in dialogue with the doctors’ union, BMA, while strikes are ongoing. Instead, he has presented inadequate offers, fully aware that they would be rejected by the union.

Junior doctors are fighting to have their pay restored to 2008 levels, which would equate to a 35 percent increase. This demand is the least they deserve, although there are concerns that some union leaders might settle for far less. The Scottish BMA agreed to suspend pay strikes scheduled for this week after receiving a revised offer from the Scottish government. However, the offer is disappointing and hardly an improvement over previous government stances. It amounts to a mere 17.5 percent increase over two years, with an immediate rise of 12.4 percent. Scottish BMA leaders claim they will recommend accepting the offer, as it prevents further pay erosion over the next three years. However, the deal fails to address the existing 26 percent pay decline. Additionally, the union has made troubling comments about a pay settlement for consultant doctors in England. Last week, the BMA stated that it would cancel strikes planned for the following week if the government offered a 12.4 percent increase, the same deal proposed to junior doctors in Scotland. There is a genuine risk that the Scottish offer will become the union’s benchmark and undermine the more radical leaders among the junior doctors. In light of this, activists must take a firm stance on the upcoming picket lines and support the union’s original pay demand and the strategy of longer strikes.

The announcement of a two-day strike by the Society of Radiographers (SoR) on July 25, shortly after the planned consultants’ strike, will undoubtedly inspire and energize the cause. The persistence of pay strikes as a pressing issue within the NHS, both among healthcare professionals and the general public, poses significant problems for the Tories, particularly as they face upcoming by-elections while already weakened. Furthermore, cabinet divisions are emerging, with some ministers advocating for improved offers to workers engaged in disputes. and finally,

Teachers vote for Action

Teachers in England represented by the NASUWT union have voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay, meaning schools could face further strike action in autumn. Nearly nine out of 10 teacher members of the NASUWT union who voted in the ballot backed strike action. The union – which passed the 50 per cent ballot turnout required by law – has said it plans to stage continuous action short of strike action starting in September. Dates for strike action in the autumn term will also be considered and it will be coordinated with other unions where possible, the union said. Overall, 88.5 per cent of NASUWT teacher members in England who voted in the ballot backed strikes and 94.3 per cent backed action short of strikes, with a turnout of 51.9 per cent.

Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Today our members have sent a strong message to the government and to employers that teachers demand a better deal on pay and to address excessive workload and working hours. “Our members have secured the largest mandate for industrial action by the NASUWT in over a decade, exceeding the government’s anti-trade union ballot thresholds.

“We have today written to the government and to employers confirming the prospect for industrial action in schools the length and breadth of the country from this autumn.”

Pregnant woman with child: Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/tawnynina-1041483/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=775036&#8243;>Tawny Nina Botha</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=775036&#8243;>Pixabay</a>
Empire Cinema Picture: By User:EmpireSunderland – Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57628583
Construction image: Image by bridgesward from Pixabay
London Underground Train: Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

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