Jim McFarlane, Dundee City Unison branch secretary (personal capacity)
Home Care Workers employed by Dundee City Council have, after almost two years campaigning, defeated the SNP-run council and their attempts to enforce changes to contracts and shift patterns.
The council had given this overwhelmingly female workforce a “choice” of either moving onto split shift working or face a cut in their contracted hours that would mean a pay loss of up to £4,500 a year.
As talks dragged on, the workers said enough was enough and consultative ballots were held across the three unions involved. Nearly 90% of members voted to take industrial action, on high ballot turnouts, unless these proposals were dropped.
It was no coincidence that on the very day the employer was notified by UNISON and GMB that they would be proceeding to an officIal strike ballot, the council sent a text to all workers saying that no one would now be forced to work split shifts or have their contracted hours cut.
Negotiations were proposed and a joint mass meeting of the whole workforce agreed to this while UNISON and GMB proceeded to carry out an official strike ballot. Those ballots closed on Friday 5th April. 85% of UNISON members voted in favour of strike action on a 64% turnout. GMB members also voted overwhelmingly in favour of action with a turnout over the 50% needed to take legal industrial action.
UNISON, GMB and Unite members organised and campaigned for nearly two years, resisting the implementation of these detrimental proposals. Membership density was built and new stewards came to the fore, playing an outstanding role.
Lobbies of the council meetings were noisy and colourful. Regular joint mass meetings were held to discuss and review the strategy. Members and stewards were inspired by the struggles of their Home Care colleagues in Birmingham and the Equal Pay Strikers in Glasgow. This type of solidarity built the confidence of the members to take action, if needed. A delegation of Glasgow Equal Pay Strikers attended Dundee City UNISON’s branch Annual General Meeting and a mass meeting of the Home Care Workers.
The Home Care workers’ victory is an example of the power of working class people organising and campaigning through their trade unions. New reps and members bring an energy and vitality to that struggle. It was another example of the growing confidence of trade union members to take to the road of struggle in defence of decent jobs and services.
This battle has also exposed the inability of capitalism to deliver quality care services to an ageing population. The workforce are very clear that this is just the first step in a campaign to bring all care services back under democratic public control.
Private care providers are only interested in profit and so pay poor wages and impose terms and conditions of employment that would shame a Victorian mill owner. Travel time between duties is routinely not paid, workers are supposed to provide care to vulnerable service users in short periods of time and some even charge their own staff for their work uniform.
These practices have to end. The trade union movement has to take the lead in organising the workforce and campaigning for all care services to be publicly provided and fully funded.