Monday, 31 August 2015

JR Porters' Strike Update 2

The porters' strike at the John Radcliffe Hospital is winding down into what is being euphemistically called a "negotiated and lasting settlement ". No industrial action at all was ever taken in the seven weeks since we voted unanimously to go ahead with it. Instead there has been an endless series of negotiations, as I explain in the more recent background article. This has resulted in management proposing a new agreement, see illustration below. In this model, rotary shifts will be maintained, but at a greatly reduced level of twenty-two porters from the pre-dispute deployment of forty. ROE stands for "retention of employment", so these are NHS staff seconded to the contractor Carillion, not direct Carillion company personnel; and a "Dispatcher" is a porter who does the job of a full senior, but for a basic grade wage. The "improved career path from Porter to Operations Manager" is code for: "If you're good enough at kissing our arse we'll promote you a bit quicker". I'm not sure about the "greater choice of shift patterns" bit. They may be planning to introduce a corps of 11-to-7 or 12-to-8 porters. These are hours nobody would choose, but they make effective dumping grounds for idiots, or as punishment duty. "Addressing" pay protection means what? They can easily respond after a two-minute consultation of twiddling their thumbs: "OK, we've addressed it, now get back to work!" No staff-member should even think of accepting this resolution without a written guarantee that their pre-dispute pay level will be permanently maintained. The paragraph beneath the bullet points sounds very sinister. It might result in a musical chairs-style scramble for all the tastiest drafts; and resentment and infighting when some of the crew don't get the hours that they want. "Work-life balance" is one of those Orwellian phrases we hear all the time nowadays in the hospital.
I must pay tribute to my contact on the inside. He has risked his career even more than all the others to bring me this information. The document above is a confidential internal communication that if you're a reader outside UNISON or the JR Portering department you should not have access to. He is the hospital portering equivalent of Edward Snowden. Naturally I have blanked out the identities of the signatories, but they are most of the people in command on both sides of this dispute. According to my contact, that portering fighting spirit has been extinguished; this proposal was passed 58% to 42%. He himself voted against it, as I hope I would have done. I don't wish to judge my serving peers in the hospital portering community, but I predicted in the previous article that this would happen. I said at the time that after the ballot the crew needed the catharsis of immediate action. I knew that this anticlimax of dithering and waffling would lead to frustration and demoralization. These are healthcare professionals and they are risking everything for this strike! They're going to feel very insecure and frightened. They might be tempted to accept a damaging compromise from Carillion that they would otherwise never consider. This is not a defeat for Carillion. In fact it's possible they put out the initial proposal knowing full well that they'd never be able to achieve everything within it. They just gave it a try to see how much they could get away with. They've settled at a satisfactory fall-back position and have made adequate progress. Give them six months to a year and they'll suggest more "streamlining and labour intensive" changes. There has been a split among the personnel, as I also thought might happen. Some of the porters have washed their hands of UNISON and are trying to bring in another union, the GMB, an organization that appears to have a good track record for taking a hard line against Carillion in the construction field, see: I don't blame those porters. UNISON are very good at hosting women's groups, black members facilitator meetings, organizing LGBT conferences and generally persuading white straight males of how EEEEEEEvil we all are, but the moment a good old fashioned punch-up breaks out, they suddenly shrink like violets. Unfortunately Carillion has refused to recognize the GMB in this state of affairs, even though many of their other employees are GMB-members, albeit in a different sector to healthcare. There is now going to be at least another month of sordid and grubby intercession in order to administer this new deal, but that is just a formality. The JR porters' strike is over. I just hope that the porters hang together and don't take out their resentment on each other. If there's to be any hope of salvaging something good from this situation then you, my brother and sister porters, must keep positive, keep your heads and stick together.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

JR Porters' Strike Update

It is now a month since the porters of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford elected to go on strike due to unacceptable changes in pay and shift patterns, see here for essential background: So far no action has taken place. There have been strike dates announced but the actions have been called off. This has happened three times now; the latest being one that was due to start at 10 PM last night for forty-eight hours. My "insider" (qv) says there have been some worrying developments. According to him the strike action has been blocked by the regional office of UNISON. They say that this is not a "trade dispute", whatever the hell that means. I dropped out of trade unionism for ideological reasons, but still take an interest in it, at least as it relates to the National Health Service, and believe it can do some good. I don't see how UNISON can command strikers to stand down when their own members voted for strike action in a ballot UNISON organized itself; not only voted for it, but did so completely unanimously within a membership pool of almost a hundred. The JRH porters are risking everything over this action and their decision should be respected and taken very seriously. Bear in mind that this is information that I've only heard from a single source, but this kind of thing could be interpreted as a betrayal. People leave trade unions over matters like this, in fact shortly after I started in portering there was a split within the department itself. The main trade union of the NHS ancillary staff in those days was NUPE, the National Union of Public Employees, but the theatre porters defected to COHSE, the Confederation Of Health Service Employees. In 1993 both of those unions merged, along with the admin union NALGO, the National Association of Local Government Officers, to form UNISON. What porters have joined together porters can put asunder. If UNISON really do pull the rug out from under this strike will some of the porters move over to another union? Or will they form their own organization dedicated to this specific dispute? At the moment there is another in an ongoing series of "consultations" with management. There's also talk of referring the case to arbitration. I can guess exactly how the porters are feeling. This delay and indecision can be frightening and demoralizing. It might tempt them to accept a damaging compromise from Carillion that they would otherwise never consider. I hope not. We'll see; I'll post further updates as and when they occur.