On the Picket Line

Widespread support for 2-day U.K. hospital workers strike

By Dag Tirsén
June 11, 2018

WIGAN, England — “I am proud of what we have done. They thought we were the small people. They thought they could get away with this outsourcing, but we’ve showed them we are not minions,” Amanda Grimes, a cleaner and one of 600 hospital workers on strike in Greater Manchester told the Militant May 23 on the picket line here.

“The bosses claim that our terms will be protected for 25 years. But we are not stupid. Before you know it overtime rates will change, new starters will be on different conditions,” she said.

The workers, organized by the Unison and UNITE unions, struck Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh hospitals May 23-24 after bosses published plans to transfer 900 catering, cleaning and porter jobs to a new company, WWL Solutions Ltd. This is a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the National Health Service. Like others set up at 19 hospital trusts across the country, bosses are not required to pay workers the same rate as those hired directly by the NHS.

More than 300 workers took part in the lively picket line outside Wigan Royal Edward Infirmary, waving placards and flags and blowing vuvuzelas. Passing drivers honked in support.

A group of nurses brought lunch for all of the pickets from a nearby restaurant after collecting donations at one of the hospital wards.

NHS Providers, which represents the bosses at hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts in the U.K., claim the subsidiaries will “deliver operational productivity improvements.” The 2006 Labour Party government decided hospital trusts could establish subsidiaries.

Jillian Harrison, who joined the picket line with two co-workers from the hospital switchboard, said she did not believe the bosses’ assurances that wages and conditions of the workers would not be changed. “They start with lowest and work their way upwards,” she said.

Unison has set another 48-hour strike for June 8-9, as negotiations continue.