Union News (27th of July 2023)

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Welcome to Union News, your weekly podcast from the Trade Union and labour movement in the UK. Writing is by Pat Harrington and music is by Tim Bragg.

Radiographers Strike: NHS Staff Exit Sparks Crisis

Radiographers in England initiated a 48-hour strike action on Tuesday, protesting the concerning exodus of staff from the profession. Members of the Society of Radiographers (SoR) voted against a 5% government pay award and demanded talks to reopen, citing disparities with pay increases offered to other public-sector workers, including junior doctors. The picket lines outside the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey saw therapeutic radiographer Ashley d’Aquino, 43, expressing their frustration. She stated that the government had not engaged with the SoR despite discussions about recruitment and retention issues. The worsening situation has led to burnout and prompted professionals to leave their positions. The striking radiographers are urging the government to collaborate more with different unions to address these critical problems. Members of the public expressed support for the striking radiographers, driving past the picket lines and honking their horns.

The strike involves 37 NHS trusts where members have a mandate to strike, including prominent institutions such as University College London Hospitals, Liverpool University Hospitals, Nottingham University Hospitals, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston, and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. However, the strike organizers have ensured that adequate emergency cover will be provided for patients during this period. Richard Evans, the Chief Executive of SoR, emphasized that the strike is not just about better conditions for the radiographers themselves but also about improving patient care. Radiographers have experienced stagnant pay increases and real-terms pay cuts since 2008, leading to a talent drain from the profession. Simultaneously, the NHS, as a whole, has faced neglect and insufficient funding from the government, causing enormous strain and jeopardizing services.

The public’s vocal support for the strike reflects their awareness of the immense pressure the NHS is under and the potential risks to its sustainability. Presently, a million people are on the waiting list for radiography services, indicating the urgency of addressing the concerns raised by the striking radiographers. In response to the strike action, Health Secretary Steve Barclay stated that the pay award was final and called on the union to call off the strike. The situation remains tense as both sides seek a resolution to the ongoing dispute.

Glasgow Museum Workers Launch Fortnight of Protests Against Job Cuts

Museum workers in Glasgow are gearing up for a fortnight of protests, beginning this week, as they rally against proposed job cuts in the city’s museums and collections department. The public-sector union Unison announced the protests, expressing concerns over the potential loss of 37 jobs, which Glasgow Life Museums intends to implement to address a £1.5 million financial deficit. While half of the proposed cuts are for unfilled positions, Unison argues that the removal of curators, conservators, technicians, outreach personnel, and learning assistants could seriously undermine the quality of visitors’ experiences, resulting in vacant and “stagnant” exhibition spaces. Glasgow Life, a charity wholly owned by Glasgow City Council, stated that it will collaborate with the union to handle the remaining job cuts. The council, known for its no compulsory redundancies policy, faces Unison’s challenge to reverse the cuts and protect the city’s renowned museums and collections. Unison calls upon Glasgow City councillors to defend the cultural institutions from funding attacks by the Scottish and UK governments, emphasizing the need to safeguard and cherish the world-renowned heritage. A Glasgow Life spokesperson clarified that the savings made this year amount to approximately 9% of the charity’s annual service fee received from the city council, and no venues will be closed. They asserted that over half of the affected posts are currently vacant. The charity is engaging closely with staff and unions to assess the individual implications of these measures. In response, a Scottish government spokesperson emphasized the increased resources provided to local government for 2023-24, showing a significant real-terms increase, with the aim of supporting cultural institutions. Unison’s protests are scheduled to commence at the Burrell Collection in Pollok Park on Saturday, July 29, and will continue at the Gallery of Modern Art in Queen Street on August 5 the following week. Museum workers are determined to make their voices heard and protect Glasgow’s cultural treasures for future generations.

Traffic Wardens in Camden Launch All-Out Strike Demanding £15.90 per Hour Pay

Traffic wardens in Camden, north London, have initiated an all-out strike, demanding a pay rise to £15.90 per hour. The workers, who currently receive £12.70 per hour, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike action, with 100 percent supporting the move on a 73.11 percent turnout. On the picket line at the Car Pound Reception in Kentish Town, the strikers voiced their demands for a pay rise with spirited chants. They were joined by CCTV workers, who also showed their solidarity with loud cheers. The strike includes over 100 workers responsible for CCTV operations, street work, and car parks, all employed under a contract with Camden council by outsourcing company NSL. Unison union representatives emphasized that the pay rise is long overdue, recalling the last significant increase in 2018, which followed a 33-day strike.

The workers expressed frustration at the lack of response from the authorities despite assurances of a pay rise. With 90 percent of the workforce now participating in the strike, they believe that such action is necessary to compel the bosses to offer reasonable proposals. Unison representatives, highlighted the impact of rising living costs and inflation, stating that the wages have not kept up. The offered increase of 57p was deemed inadequate, falling below the London living wage raise. The striking traffic wardens are calling for a fair wage and expressed determination to continue the strike indefinitely, citing its effectiveness in gaining a quick response from employers.

The previous strike saw NSL attempt to replace striking workers with staff from other contracts, but this time, the union is adamant that it will prevent such measures. There are also discussions about the possibility of bringing the workers in-house, a move they believe would offer better treatment and benefits.

Record High: Number of Children in Temporary Accommodation in England

According to newly released figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the number of children in temporary accommodation in England has reached an all-time high. In March, a staggering 104,510 households were in temporary accommodation, while 131,370 children lived in these households—marking the highest figures recorded since 1998 and 2004, respectively. Over the past year, these numbers have grown by 10%, with the number of households in bed and breakfasts surging by over a third to 13,780. The situation has drawn sharp criticism, especially in light of the DLUHC recently returning £1.9 billion earmarked to tackle the housing crisis to the treasury, citing difficulties in finding suitable projects to spend it on.

Nick Ballard, ACORN Head Organiser, expressed dismay, stating, “It is a national disgrace” given the apparent lack of progress on addressing the issue. The ADLUHC, however, contends that temporary accommodation ensures families have a roof over their heads and emphasizes that the use of bed and breakfasts is always considered a last resort to prevent homelessness before it occurs. Nonetheless, the escalating numbers raise serious concerns about the welfare and stability of vulnerable families across the country.

and finally… Rail Bosses Extend Ticket Office Closure Consultation Amid Backlash and Legal Threats

In response to strong public opposition and legal threats, rail bosses have decided to extend the public consultation on mass ticket office closures by three weeks. The Rail Delivery Group’s decision comes after unions and passenger groups expressed concerns about the potential closure of over 1,000 ticket offices and the loss of 2,300 station staff.

The RMT and Aslef unions remain critical of the consultation process and are considering legal action. Five Labour metro mayors, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, are also preparing to challenge the “rushed” closure plan in court. The extension has been welcomed, but critics argue that a 12-week consultation is required by law. Various watchdogs and organizations, such as Transport Focus, London TravelWatch, Scope, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have raised their own concerns about the impact of the plan on passengers, particularly disabled and older individuals. The situation remains contentious as stakeholders continue to call for transparency and accountability in shaping the future of the railways.

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