Welcome to Union News, your guide to what is happening in the UK labour and trade union movement. Reporting is by Pat Harrington and music is by Tim Bragg. In this edition we report on tough times for the disabled this Christmas, a victory for Government workers on pay, the financial struggles facing health workers and finally, the likelihood of further junior doctor strikes.
Financial Strain Forces Disabled Individuals to Cancel Christmas Plans, Urgent Call for Government Support
A recent survey by disability charity Sense reveals that one in three disabled individuals is cancelling Christmas due to financial difficulties, with over 50% falling into debt. Sense CEO Richard Kramer urges the government to provide targeted financial support for vulnerable households during the winter, emphasizing the inadequacy of the upcoming 6.7% increase in welfare benefits.
The study unveils that two-thirds of disabled individuals constantly worry about bills, and 34% will miss spending time with loved ones. Almost half won’t buy presents, and concerns about energy costs lead two in five to skip festive lights. With over half reducing or turning off heating and a third skipping meals, the survey underscores the urgent need for comprehensive assistance for disabled individuals facing dire financial challenges this holiday season.
Government Department Workers Call Off Strike After Securing Improved Pay Deal
Cleaners, security guards, and support staff at three major government departments in Whitehall have called off their 34-day strike after successfully negotiating an enhanced pay deal with their employer, outsourced company ISS. The workers, represented by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, were employed at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Department for Business and Trade, and Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology.
The new pay deal, backdated to March, includes raises ranging from 5 to 8 percent, along with additional benefits such as improved full-pay sickness absence. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commended the members for their “great strength” in the prolonged strike, stating that they will now receive the rewards they deserve, setting a standard for statutory minimum terms and conditions in the industry.
Serwotka emphasized the PCS commitment to extending these victories throughout Whitehall, aiming to eliminate the “scourge of outsourcing.” The resolution marks a positive outcome for the workers who stood firm in their demands against what was described as a “stubborn” employer.
Financial Struggles Grip Higher Education Workers as 5% Pay Offer Sparks Controversy
A recent survey has unveiled that nearly half of higher education workers are left with less than £50 each month, raising concerns over financial well-being. The 5% pay offer, deemed “entirely inadequate” by Unite, has sparked controversy among administrative, technical, and estate staff.
The survey of over 1,000 workers in the sector revealed that in the past year, 8% have had to skip meals, and 32% cut back on heating their homes due to financial constraints. More than half expressed worries about rent and mortgage payments if their pay remains stagnant.
Unite is currently in talks with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) regarding the pay award imposed in March as part of the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff. The committee is advocating for an increase of RPI plus 2% or £4,000, whichever is greater.
Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, asserted that the 2023/24 pay deal is insufficient and must be improved, emphasizing the impact on the financial stability of higher education workers.
UCEA’s chief executive, Raj Jethwa, acknowledged the cost-of-living pressures facing staff and highlighted the early initiation of pay talks. The final pay award, ranging from 8% to 5% from August 2023, with almost half paid from February, aims to address financial concerns. Despite financial pressures in the sector, Jethwa asserts that the pay award is comparable to settlements in the wider economy. The ongoing discussions between Unite and UCEA will shape the resolution of this contentious issue.
and finally, Historic NHS Strike Looms as Junior Doctors Reject Tory Offer
Junior doctors in England are gearing up for the longest national strike in NHS history this month, following the Tory government’s initial refusal to engage with the union and an unsatisfactory response to talks. The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced strikes from 7 am on December 20 to 7 am on December 23, with another six-day walkout planned from January 3 to January 9.
The prolonged strikes are expected to disrupt planned treatments, outpatient clinics, and hospital ward care, exacerbating the already massive seven million-strong treatment waiting list. The BMA is using the strikes to protest against low pay, demand full pay restoration after a decade of cuts, and defend the NHS.
Junior doctors, with starting hourly rates at £14.09, often carry over £100,000 in student debt. The London Living Wage is £13.15. The BMA argues that low pay is driving doctors away, contributing to a severe shortage of qualified staff, jeopardizing the future of the NHS.
Despite the government’s imposition of an average 8.8% pay rise, the BMA insists this fails to address years of pay erosion. A subsequent 3% increase was unevenly distributed across different grades, leaving many doctors facing a real-terms pay cut. BMA representatives Dr. Robert Laurenson and Dr. Vivek Trevedi expressed frustration, stating, “A year after our dispute started, we are still too far from turning the tide on plummeting pay, morale, and retention of doctors.”
New Tory health secretary Vicky Atkins faces growing opposition to a pay deal with consultants, as some, including Dr. Clive Peedell, threaten to vote against it unless junior doctors receive a better offer. Dr. Ajay M Verma also voiced support for junior doctors, emphasizing solidarity.
The BMA’s call for solidarity pickets and support from local trade unionists aims to increase pressure on the government to improve its offer and serves as encouragement for health workers grappling with low pay to prepare for further action in the new year. The prospect of a fresh wave of coordinated health strikes looms, intended to challenge the Tories and advocate for fair pay and working conditions.