Big pay cuts, loss of leave and the 'race to the bottom' dominated yesterdays public meeting organised by UNISON stewards who provide support to clients with learning disabilities.
Close to 100 people attended - about half of whom were employees of the old Oxfordshire Learning Disability Trust - now taken over by Southern Health Foundation Trust and rebranded TQ21.
The meeting dealt squarely with the proposals coming from the new employers - swinging cuts in wages up to £400 a month, a reduction in annual leave to just above the legal minimum and a 'pay for your own training' approach to quality. In a reckless disregard for patients, the trust originally proposed to impose the new contract on workers attending work on the 1st July - now they are attempting to force staff to sign up to new low pay and conditions contracts in advance by threatening the loss of limited pay protection if staff fail to agree.
The advice from the union to members is clear - don't sign any new contract until this issue is resolved. The union is starting a consultative ballot among members, our stewards team is urging members to tick the section calling for strike action. If members support strike / industrial action a full legal ballot will take place which would give members the right and protection to take action - should there be a majority vote for this.
As Kelvin Aubery, the UNISON Regional Officer pointed out, bad as this situation is, this could be the start of a a race to the bottom with the employers cutting pay down to the national minimum wage in order to win contracts. Accepting these pay cuts would be no guarantee that employers wouldn't come back for more.
James Morbin, Joint UNISON Convenor of the team, spoke of the need to reach out to every workplace to involve all staff in the union and this campaign and to take the message into communities to build support for a quality service provided by staff who are treated as professionals.
An important aspect of the meeting was the strong spirit of solidarity. Messages of support came in from stewards across the local NHS - the branch has set up an industrial action fund of £10,000 to support members who are forced to take industrial action to defend their pay and conditions. Adrian O'Malley, the Branch Secretary of striking Yorkshire medical secretaries, spoke of the strength of support for workers facing pay cuts there (even patients were joining picket lines) and thanked our branch for our £2000 donation to their industrial action hardship fund.
Labour Councillor Richard Stevens spoke of how Oxfordshire County Council commissioned (bought) learning disability services on behalf of the people of Oxfordshire. They had been promised that the take over of the Learning Disability Trust by the Southampton based Southern Health Foundation Trust would not reduce workers terms and conditions or the quality of the service provided. He spoke of concerns that learning disability services from the formerly highly regarded Oxfordshire service were going to be tuned in to a cut price low quality service and urged the county council to insist on maintaining standards. He promised to keep working closely with Andrew Smith, the Labour MP for Oxford East.
Councillor Larry Saunders spoke on behalf of the campaign group 'Keep Our NHS Public' and spoke of the the new Health and Social Care act's aim to intensify the drive to put public services out to the market to get low cost solutions for even the most complex care cases.
There followed a lively discussion among staff and supporters about the issues facing staff and service users.
The meeting ended with calls to
- Continue outreach work among the workforce and community
- Run the protest postcard campaign - directed at the Chief Executive of Southern Health FT.
- Build the Mayday Demonstration in Oxford - starting Manzil Way 12 noon Sat 4th May.
- Build support for the workers so they know they are not alone in fighting cuts in pay and conditions.