120 hospital porters who are members of Unite at Dundee’s Ninewells and Royal Victoria hospitals have escalated their strike action over demands on pay and longstanding grading issues.
The strike action began two weeks ago as a series of 4 hour strikes every Monday and Friday. Last Friday – March 20 – however, was the first 24-hour strike as the conflict was ratcheted up by the actions of an intransigent NHS Tayside management.
In response to the escalation of the strike NHS bosses took the union to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to try and have the strike declared illegal under anti-trade union legislation. This was defeated and the health board will have to pay Unite’s legal costs. The union estimates that costs of the case will amount to £100,000, enough to pay six porters for a year. Unite industrial officer Colin Couper made the point, “It beggars belief that NHS Tayside’s directors could have wasted as much as £100,000 to try and crush our members fair pay campaign.”
The porters at Ninewells and Victoria hospitals are on a Band 1 grading. Porters at other hospitals in Tayside are on Band 2. They are demanding £10 million in back pay for being underpaid going back over 10 years. NHS Tayside bosses – many of whom are on six figure salaries – claim that the unions, including Unite, had signed up to this grading under Agenda for Change. But the many anomalies under this system are being exposed by the day, this being a case in point.
NHS bosses have been using the so-called “Portering Action Response Team” made up of managers and “volunteers” from the HR department to cut across the effectiveness of the porters action. This includes managers who are on Band 6 and above. The Scottish Government and SNP politicians in Dundee have been silent on the dispute and have supported the Agenda for Change outcomes, despite the unfairness, as is clearly the case here.
In a clear case of victimisation, the employer has been threatening to deduct up to half the weekly wage of porters involved in strike action. At the well attended strike rally on Friday unions from across Dundee brought solidarity and financial support. They ranged from Dundee City Unison, Dundee Trades Council, FBU Scotland and Unite ambulance workers, who also donated £1,000 for the strike. Jim McFarlane, secretary of Dundee City Unison, brought support from his union branch which represents 2,000 members. Jim is also the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate for Dundee West in May
Philip Stott from TUSC was also invited to address the rally. He pointed to the example the porters were setting for all trade unionists in their fight for fair pay and proper grading for the job. The backdrop to this conflict was linked to the savage austerity being carried out by politicians from Westminster to Holyrood and beyond. There was warm applause for the demand that our elected politicians should be fighting austerity rather than implementing it.
In contrast to the support being shown in Dundee for the porters and in an unacceptable intervention, Unison’s Lead organiser for Health in Scotland, Matt McGloughlin, has written to Unison branches asking them “to think twice about lending support to a dispute which undermines their [Tayside Healthcare Unison branch] position and that of the UNISON Health Committee.”
The letter, which had not been discussed in the Tayside Unison Healthcare branch, claims, “It is our view locally, that there is no evidence to support the claims of process failure by UNITE and indeed we are of the opinion that UNITE were fully and actively involved at all levels, in the job evaluation for these members of staff.” This is exactly the position being put forward by the employers against the porters.
“UNISON Tayside Healthcare Branch are concerned that the dispute, which is being promoted as a fair pay campaign, could have a negative impact on UNISON recruitment and retention particularly amongst other band 1 staff.” In other words workers could be attracted to a union – in this case Unite – who are taking strike action to improve the wages of their members. Isn’t that what the Unison leadership should be doing?
Unison branches who have received the letter, as well as members of the Tayside Healthcare branch, are challenging this damaging and inaccurate intervention. The job of trade unions is to build support and solidarity with workers taking action, not seek to undermine them.
Unite are appealing for messages of support and financial donations for this vitally important dispute. Please ensure you send messages of support via Unite branch secretary John Boland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please send donations to Unite, 110 Blackness Road, Dundee DD1 5PB (Cheques payable to Unite)
Like the Facebook page: Support Ninewells Porters