Union News 16th October 2023

Welcome to Union News, your guide to what’s happening in the UK labour and trade union movement. Writing is by Pat Harrington and music is by Tim Bragg.

Caterers on TransPennine Express Bracing for Strike Over Pay and Benefits

Contracted caterers working on TransPennine Express trains, employed by Rail Gourmet, are preparing to strike due to disputes surrounding their wages, pensions, and sick pay. Members of the RMT union allege they are receiving inferior terms, lower pay, and fewer benefits compared to directly employed colleagues. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch stressed the need for TransPennine Express to pressure Rail Gourmet to meet their demands. Rail Gourmet is currently in talks with the RMT to find a resolution. TransPennine Express has not yet provided a comment on the situation.

NHS: Concerns Over Healthcare Outsourcing

The digital transformation of public services has become a key focus for both major political parties. However, at the Conservative Party conference, two significant meetings discussing the “tech revolution in the NHS” were sponsored by controversial privatization corporations. This has raised concerns that the enthusiasm for digitizing the NHS may lead to outsourcing contracts that reduce access to medical care.

One of these meetings was organized by ConservativeHome and sponsored by Atos, a French-owned outsourcing company known for its controversial work with government contracts, particularly those affecting disabled people. At the event, Atos’s chief lobbyist, Baron Kulveer Ranger, spoke about their involvement in delivering public services, which did not resonate well with disabled individuals.

Science Minister George Freeman used the Atos-sponsored event to promote the digital revolution, suggesting it would challenge monopolies and enhance accountability. However, his vision of using tech to create competition in public services, particularly healthcare, raised concerns about outsourcing to tech firms.

The second meeting, organized by Tory think tank Onward and funded by the US-based outsourcer Maximus, explored the role of prevention and new technologies in the NHS. Health Secretary Steve Barclay was joined by Margaret McNab, the managing director of the health division of Maximus UK, who advocated for digital transformation in healthcare.

Both Atos and Maximus have faced criticism for their roles in assessing disabled individuals for benefits, raising skepticism about their involvement in promoting digital healthcare services. The worry is that outsourcing contracts may prioritize using apps to encourage individuals to manage their health, potentially detracting from proper medical care.

North-East Bus Workers to Launch Indefinite Strike Over Pay

Bus workers in the north-east of England, represented by the union Unite, are set to initiate an indefinite strike action due to a pay dispute. Over 1,300 union members employed at Go North East have already carried out a week-long strike, and they are scheduled to strike again for a week starting tomorrow. Beginning on October 28, they will commence an open-ended strike.

Unite regional officer Dave Telford has expressed that Go Ahead, the parent company, has the financial means to provide fair and proper compensation to their workers, especially in comparison to other bus operations under the Go Ahead umbrella, but they have chosen not to do so. Workers are reluctantly resorting to strike action because their employer is failing to address their demands for equitable wages.

The affected workers encompass a range of roles, including drivers, engineers, maintenance staff, and depot crews. The strike action will impact Go North East depots in Consett, Gateshead, Hexham, Percy Main (North Shields), Sunderland, and Washington. Unite emphasizes its willingness to engage in negotiations if Go North East is prepared to make a new offer.

and finally, East London School Workers Strike Against Academy Plans

In East London, members of the NEU (National Education Union) at Connaught School for Girls are organizing a series of strikes to protest against plans to convert the school into an academy.

NEU union members struck for three days this week against proposals for the school to join Star Academy, and in opposition to compulsory redundancies and any increases in workload. The 55 union members voted 89 percent yes to the action.

It was the third ballot over academisation plans in two years and followed six strike days in July. In the latest phase, workers are set for nine strike days.

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