Health workers take unprecedented strike action!

Hammersmith Hospital pickets winning the support of passing motorists
Hammersmith Hospital pickets winning the support of passing motorists

HEALTH workers throughout the country came out solidly on strike on Monday against the government’s refusal to increase their pay by 1% for those who receive regular annual increments.

Midwives who have not been on strike for 134 years turned out en masse on picket lines on Monday morning.

At Luton & Dunstable Hospital over 50 of them joined with Unison, GMB and Unite members.

Deb Cheshire, a Unison member told News Line: ‘I hold all the main political parties responsible for the crisis in the NHS.

‘Today’s strike is not just about pay, its about how all the cuts we have experienced in society have resulted in poverty which is the cause of so much social and health problems.

‘Loads of work in my department is being put out to tender with companies like Branson’s Virgin health bidding for NHS contracts all the time.

‘What really made me sick was David Cameron at the Tory party conference going on about how great the NHS was to him and his family. I bet he never had to use an ambulance or sit in a waiting room to be seen like everyone else.

‘When Labour was elected in 1997 I was a huge supporter of Blair, especially when I listened to all the promises made about the NHS – today I not only have no confidence in the government but I don’t think Labour are good enough, not fighting for ordinary people.

‘My great grandfather was on the Jarrow hunger marches in the 1930s and we must not return to those days.’

Phil Spencer, another Unison member added: ‘I am completely disillusioned with the union leadership. They sit in their offices in London completely detached from the real hard lives of their members.

‘Over the past five years I have had a pay cut of 10% through freezes and pay rises well below the inflation rate.

‘I was one of the few who got the 1% pay rise this year – I reckon it adds up to about one pence a week on my wages, it’s an insult.

‘I really think we have to get rid of these union leaders and the lot in charge of the TUC and get leaders who are prepared to stand up to the government and fight.’

At Northwick Park Hospital, there were over 150 on the picket line.

Stephen Mountford, Unite Workforce Rep for the Genetic Diagnosis Lab told News Line: ‘We want to get the message out about our poor deal on pay.

‘The pay increases we were due – but have been taken away – were part of a work contract that NHS signed up to.

‘Our real terms pay has been cut by 20%. If necessary we need a general strike to resolve this.’

At Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Unison, Unite and the RCM came together.

Harry Seddon, Branch Secretary Unison, said: ‘Our people are very frustrated with a government too measly to give us even 1%.

‘Members are concerned about pay but also about the underlying state of the NHS, which is under funded and under staffed, to give patients good care.

‘The other thing is to stop contracting out.’

Unison steward Stephen Leuw added: ‘I have not had a rise for three years. The 1% last year was not consolidated. My money is not going as far as it did. The NHS need more money.

‘Most departments are working with limited staff cover. This Trust here is now in the red.’

Judi Roper, steward for RCM said: ‘Midwives are on strike for the 1% awarded us by the Independent Review Body.

‘The government refused to take the recommendation and only paid the 1% to midwives on the top of the pay band.

‘Pay has been frozen in the NHS for a number of years. Midwives pay has not kept up with the cost of living,. Many newly qualified midwives are having to take on extra shifts, or other roles, to make ends meet. Some would be better off on the dole.

‘There is a huge shortfall of midwives. Although more are being trained, the Trusts don’t have the money to employ them.’

Unison Branch Secretary at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Mohammed Ali, said ‘The strike is going well, and is well supported both by members of staff including doctors, and also by passers-by’

He said: ‘The army is being sent on to the streets to provide emergency ambulance service, but since patient care is still being provided, the use of the army in those circumstances is unjustified.’

In the pouring rain, Homerton Hospital strikers were out in force.

Ruth Woolhouse, Unite shop steward and a nurse told News Line: ‘People in my workplace work forty hour weeks for wages that do not allow them to pay their rent or feed their children, work which involves caring for the health of others.’

Homerton ambulance station Unison shop steward Mark Lione explained to News Line: ‘The support from the people of Hackney has been overwhelming’.

Janet from Patient Advice and Liaison and member of Unison added: ‘We are out on strike because we are all underpaid in the Health Service.

‘The Unions should do more to defend their members. A lot of Hospital staff colleagues are living week to week, are using credit cards, borrowing money in order to get by from week to week. A 1% pay rise is in reality a pay cut. Rent, food, and fuel prices are the highest in the EU and low pay workers deserve a much bigger pay rise.

‘I think that the trade unions should be organising a general strike to bring down this government.’

On the picket line at Ealing Hospital in west London, strikers were determined to defeat the closure of the Maternity Unit which was announced by the hospital management last Wednesday.

Rachel Emerson, Unison Branch Chair, said: ‘We are on a pay strike today and our members desperately need a pay rise, but our fight is not just over pay.

‘The threatened closure of the maternity unit is terrible news. This unit receives the overflow from other units when they become full, and this happens a lot.’

RCM steward Ann Gurney said: ‘It’s disgusting, we only heard through the media that they intend to close the maternity unit at Ealing Hospital and it could be as early as March.

‘It’s the women of Southall who will suffer. There are over 100 midwives here, we deliver approximately 3.000 babies a year and if we close they will have to travel miles.

‘It’s absolutely devastating, for our staff and the community.’

The Whittington Hospital at Archway had four picket lines.

On Dartmouth Park Hill picket, Unison member Catherine Wardle, said: ‘The NHS is not a fair pay employer or equal pay either. I want a living wage imposed.

‘There are serious issues with outsourced workers – mainly women on low pay. We have to stand in solidarity together, I agree there has to be a general strike.’

There was a lively picket at Hammersmith Hospital in west London.

RCM steward Suzy Ridley told News Line: ‘All we are asking for is one per cent pay rise.

‘Midwives on a band 6 pay scale have lost over £4,000.

‘Jeremy Hunt said this morning if we were paid the one per cent then 4,000 nurses would have to go next year, 10,000 the year after and another 10,000 the year after – that is absolutely ridiculous!’

Unison shop steward Cynthia Calliste said ‘We have not had a pay rise since 2010.

‘We continue to work long hours sometimes without a meal break.’

Unison member Sam Wright said: ‘One per cent is a pittance. MPs have got their eleven per cent but they don’t want to give us one.’

Unison midwife Shelley Thompson added ‘We are working harder and harder, dealing with more women.

‘There are greater demands yet we are getting less money and struggling to pay our bills.’

On the picket at King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south-east London, Unison Branch Secretary  Frank Woods said: ‘We are on strike for fair pay. The shocking thing about this 1% is only half the staff are receiving it, the other half won’t get a pay raise.

‘This government’s policy is deliberately running down the NHS.’

Gillian Green, Medical Secretary at Croydon University Hospital said: ‘Hunt says we get a 3% incremental rise. But I’m at the top of my band and stand to get nothing except this 1% – and now they’re taking that away. I’m not doing this for myself – I’m 60 – It’s people who come after me that I’m concerned about.’

Unison branch secretary at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital John Campbell told News Line on the early-morning picket line: ‘Our action’s got off to a good start with lots of support. We’ve seen the government saying “We’re all in it together”, but for public sector workers the 1% recommended rise is not accepted.

‘Enough is enough! Our strike is not aimed at any local hospital. We’ve ensured patients are not at risk.’

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