At the end of August porters at the JRII hospital reluctantly voted to accept a Unison brokered deal that protected the shifts and wages of porters at JRII.
The deal brought to an end a dispute that saw the porters vote 100% to strike on an 80% turnout against plans to impose changes to shifts that would have left porters hundreds of pounds a month worse off and created shift patterns that were unworkable for many of them. The porters vote for strike drew a lot of public attention and support from across the country.
The overwhelming vote for action also reflected the anger at Carillion for their treatment of Unison members and stewards. Porters repeatedly reported atrocious bullying by Carillion managers and four Unison stewards (3 of them Black) were subject to disciplinary actions or barring from work following the pay strike and in the run up to the strike ballot in what was widely regarded as a campaign of victimisation for their being prepared to lead strike action, and speak out against bullying. Much to the anger of the majority of OUHT stewards and their supporters on the Unison health branch committee, Unison officials insisted that the ending of victimisations would not be part of the final settlement and the victimisations would not be fought with strike action. The final deal did open up a process to address the members' complaints about a management culture of bullying in Carillion, but the threat of action against stewards continues.
During the dispute it was clear that porters had little faith in Carillion’s willingness to find a reasonable solution to ongoing problems. Carillion had reported a high level of job failures as the reason for wanting to impose shift changes, while porters reported the appalling shortage of portering staff on shifts that lead to job failures as the problem - something shift changes would not address. Porters reported too many cases of shifts being covered only by the minimum number of porters needed to cover emergency calls, and at critical times it was impossible to get help from on-call managers who should have been available to support the porters and draft in help. Porters reported incredible stress levels managing in these situations, some even breaking down at their inability to provide the help that patients needed. Frustration with Carillion’s refusal to address these problems in any meaningful way brought things to a head.
The prospect of popular strike action that would have paralysed sections of the hospital focused attentions of Carillion and Trust management, and forced them to engage in more meaningful talks with the support of ACAS. Porters themselves were reluctant to engage in this process, believing that they would win more by striking, but were told action would not be called unless further talks broke down.
In the end a deal was put forward that was accepted on a small majority of 57%, with a reduced turnout of 64%. While the majority of current porters kept their rotas and fended off pay cuts, a new rota pattern was agreed that would apply to the remaining porters.
There is anecdotal evidence that the problems of job failures remains unchanged, supporting the porters original contention that the shift pattern was not the problem, but due to the difficulties getting enough porters on shift to cover demand. The new shift pattern is based on 6 days on shift before a rest period, with reports of staff feeling exhausted and stressed.
Many of the porters who took part in the dispute are formally employed by the OUHT, though managed by Carillion under the Retention of Employment (RoE) deal. This guaranteed these staff NHS wage rates which are better than Carillion’s own. Unison has previously raised concerns that private contractors pressure staff paid NHS wages out of jobs to replace them with their own - to help reduce their wage bill to increase company profits. There are rumours that Carillion is using the sickness policy to get rid RoE of staff with health problems, and Carillion has said it has the right to offer its own contract on worse terms and conditions than RoE. However OUHT Director of Workforce Carl Jenkinson has said that RoE posts are supposed to be replaced as they are vacated, retaining the same number of RoE posts over the 25 years of the contract. Unison will be seeking to ensure that there is no loss of RoE posts.