Monday, 27 January 2014

Reinstate Charlotte Monro!

This is Charlotte's speech to the rally held outside the London hospital on December 4th 2013. In her contribution Charlotte elaborates the background events leading up to her sacking, puts this in the perspective of the current all-round onslaught on the NHS as a whole and calls on the health workers and the community to step up the work to defend and safeguard the future of the NHS.

BBC news report for background:

Solidarity with Charlotte Monro

Solidarity with Charlotte Monro 

There's a new climate of diktat and fear sweeping through the NHS

An occupational therapist who won awards for her work has been sacked for querying cuts to a stroke unit

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. So says Jeremy Hunt, keen to ferret out bad treatment, if only for nefarious political purposes. "No decision about me without me," pledged his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, while uprooting the NHS with no one's by-your-leave. Both upheld the NHS constitution to "put patients at the heart of everything the NHS does" and to be "accountable to the public, communities and patients". But all that will be overridden by clause 118, hastily tacked onto the care bill, which returns to parliament this week.

Maybe such pieties were never realistic in a rationed NHS (or any private system)that can offer only what available funds can buy. Money is at the heart of decisions about what's best for patients, although politicians pretend otherwise. Better by far to be open about this eternal truth and conduct honest public debates about tough priorities. But clause 118 will shut down public involvement. What's more, it uproots Lansley's chaotic reorganisation by giving absolute power to trust special administrators (TSAs), free to close, merge or privatise hospitals regardless of doctors, patients or the public.

The NHS Trusts Development Authority says half its trusts are in financial trouble, along with many foundation trusts: all risk falling into the hands of these TSA dictators to fix their fate. Forget new clinical commissioning groups, theoretically led by GPs to commission what they think best: they will be ignored – unless the House of Lords throws out this explosive clause.

Far from opening up to public scrutiny, the NHS, under acute financial pressure, is clamping down on public involvement. Let's start with whistleblowing. After the Mid Staffs scandal, you might expect the eyes and ears of all staff to be recruited to speak out whenever they see things going wrong. But the case of Charlotte Monro sends out a warning to staff to keep their mouths shut on pain of losing their jobs. Yesterday, her dismissal from Barts NHS Trustfor "serious misconduct" was upheld by the hospital's appeals panel.

A Unison rep, Monro worked for 26 years as an occupational therapist at Whipps Cross hospital in east London, recently merged with the Royal London and Barts. Barts, with a famously catastrophic PFI debt, needs to save money fast: 1000 jobs are to go, with many staff downgraded. One saving is to merge two stroke wards, losing nearly a third of beds and a small specialist gym, vital to get stroke patients on the move. Monro, representing staff, addressed the local Waltham Forest council's health scrutiny committee to explain why this plan was inadequate. Local authorities are supposed to play a part in NHS accountability, responsible for public health and for integrating social services for returning patients to the community. But her appearance caused Barts managers to fire her for bringing the trust into disrepute with inaccurate information. "Inaccurate" is a matter of opinion: there are two sides in any reorganisation dispute.

Surely, councillors protested, NHS staff have the right to speak to their local scrutiny committee? Managers searched for other reasons to bolster Monro's dismissal and came up with a complaint that, four months previously, she had consulted some of her members on what they claimed was a confidential plan. But most preposterous, they uncovered an ancient conviction for assaulting a policeman related to a demonstration back in 1979, claiming she had never registered it. Now they have upheld her dismissal on these old issues, but conceded she did have the right to speak to the scrutiny committee, although that's what triggered the disciplinary action.

I have no idea if the staff are right about cuts to the stroke unit, but what's plain is that their view should be heard – and under the Trade Union Act, no representative should suffer personal detriment for union duties. Monro is devastated at losing her job, despite what the disciplinary panel call her "unblemished record" and good work with patients. She had years of good relations with Whipps Cross managers before the merger: she won an award for outstanding service in 2009. What this achieves is the silencing of any staff wishing to express a view, as cuts come thick and fast. Journalists know how afraid NHS staff are, less whistleblowers than nervous whisperers. Hunt may want them to denounce bad NHS care – but certainly not to question management or political decisions that determine resources for care. Monro plans to take her case to an employment tribunal, which may untangle the unjust original cause for her dismissal from the excavated charges used to justify it.

Clause 118 is to be voted on in February. It springs from the government's frustration at losing a court case brought by Lewisham hospital protesters to stop their services being cannibalised to shore up the finances of nearby south London hospitals, bankrupted by a PFI. If the clause passes, protesters, MPs, doctors and commissioning groups are set aside. A TSA can impose closures and mergers within 40 days.

The NHS never could be a democracy: everyone wants more. But it runs only with the reasonable consultation and consent of its staff and local community. Managers must manage finite resources, but successful reconfigurations happen when doctors are convinced of clinical value for money and they, in turn, persuade others. Clause 118 rides roughshod over that, heralding a new climate of diktat: whistleblowers beware. By voting down clause 118, Liberal Democrat peers who sold out the NHS last year could repair some of that damage.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Higher education workers to walk out for third day over pay

21 Jan 2014 12:13 
Caterers, cleaners, security guards and student support staff in universities across the country will be among those walking out for a third time on 6 February, as their bitter row with cash-rich higher education employers rolls on. 

The UK-wide strike will involve members from UNISON, UCU and EIS, and follows previous strikes on 31 October and 7 December last year. 

Universities have effectively shut down talks and begun to forcibly impose their miserly 1% pay offer.   This is another blow to low paid staff in higher education who have seen their pay fall by 13% in real terms over the past five years.

More than 4,000 higher education workers are currently paid below the living wage, which is £7.65 an hour or £8.80 an hour in London. This is despite universities building up cash reserves of more than £2bn over the past two years, with the Higher Education Funding Council predicting this trend will continue for the next few years. 
The median salary of vice chancellors is £242,000, with the highest paid employee in higher education receiving more than £500,000. Yet workers at the bottom end of the pay scale earn just £13,486. Across the UK terms and conditions amongst higher education workers are being eroded while job insecurity is increasing. There is a greater use of zero hour contracts and an increase in the gender pay gap.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

"It is a very difficult decision to take strike action, particularly for those on low pay.   UNISON members are angry that cash-rich universities are ignoring the financial hardship that they and their families are facing, and they are not prepared to accept the crumbs off the high table.

"Universities are keen to proclaim their success and line the pockets of Vice Chancellors and their cronies with inflation busting rises as a reward, and yet 4,000 higher education staff earn below the Living Wage.

"Universities are sitting on billions of pounds of surplus money and they can afford to pay a decent wage to hard working staff. Workers who have managed to hang onto their jobs through significant changes have seen their workload increase dramatically, yet their incomes have been squeezed to breaking point."


Notes to Editors

UNISON members in higher education took part in nationwide strike action on 31 October 2013 and 3 December 2013, seeking a significant improvement on the employer's 1% pay offer. The union's higher education service group executive took the decision to call for a third day of action following discussions with other trade unions after the employers refused to increase their pay offer.

Higher education has a greater gender pay gap than the rest of the public sector.
More than half of higher education institutions are using zero hours contracts and the numbers are growing.

In the last two years surpluses in the sector have been over £2bn.  Student fee income has more than offset cuts in government grants.

Unity is strength - a tough nut to crack

The TUC has a paper policy of coordinating strike action against the Tory onslaught of austerity - and that means we should be working with all unions who are in dispute, whether it is over pay, pensions or privatisation. 

Ideally we would be out with teachers in schools, probation officers and firefighters, as well as support staff and lecturers in colleges and Uni. Local Government officers should be out alongside nurses and civil servants - we all face deep and damaging cuts.

In UNISON Higher Ed, with our sisters and brothers in UCU, Unite and EIS, our strategy has been to try to get as many unions with live disputes to coordinate action together.

So we called the 6th Feb strike day as part of a week of action: Local Government UNISON have called for a day of action on the 4th Feb - not strike action but their campaign may well lead to a ballot.

The RMT are also out on the 4th and 5th Feb In London over job cuts.

UCU and EIS will be out on 6th with UNISON in HE (Unite are still consulting on further action at this stage). 

Teaching union, the NUT, said in November 2013 after rolling regional action, that they would enter talks with Gove and at the latest would put on hold further strike action until the 13th Feb.  

The momentum that built up around the November 2011 pensions dispute did not happen overnight (see photo of June 2011). 

I believe we can still win our dispute if we seriously build stronger connections across all those TUC affiliated unions who realise that alone we cannot win our separate disputes but together our chances increase exponentially. 

So we've taken the plunge and called another day to restart the pay dispute: lets restart the momentum and begin to build some of the unity we so badly need to win our dispute over pay.  

The TUC policy of uniting and coordinating strike action needs to be made meaningful or last September will be remembered as just another month of posturing during conference season.

See you on picket lines, demos and rallies during a week of action in early Feb: lets start the year as we mean to go on - moving forward together. 



UNISON along with UCU and EIS have today announced a further 1 day national strike for the 6 February 2014 in response to the HE employers refusal to improve their inadequate 1%  pay offer. Unite are currently undertaking further consultation.
Universities are refusing to make a decent pay offer, despite holding huge cash reserves, which are predicted to continue for the next few years by the Higher Education Funding Council, which describes university finances as being "sound overall".
UNISON Branches up and down the country will be protesting next week to highlight the inequality within the sector, as well as the added value that employees contribute to the student experience.
UNISON's National Secretary Jon Richards said " Universities are keen to proclaim their success and line the pockets of Vice Chancellors and their cronies with inflation busting rises as a reward.  Yet thousands of HE staff earn below the Living Wage. Workers who even  the Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledges are the "working poor".
"The money is there to pay more. Staff who have managed to hang onto their jobs through significant changes  have seen their workload increase dramatically, yet their incomes have been squeezed to breaking point".
"UNISON is calling a 3rd strike day with sister trade unions to show HE employers that staff will not lie down and accept the crumbs off the high table".

Friday, 3 January 2014


"You will recall that in July we informed all members that UNISON's Solicitors, Thompson's, submitted an Employment Tribunal Claim against London Metropolitan University for discrimination against Max Watson, for his Trade Union activities. 
We are pleased to inform you Watford Employment Tribunal has accepted our application and there will be a hearing in January. The hearing starts on 6th and will end by 10th January 2014. We will of course update you on the outcome as soon as we have it.
Thanks for your ongoing and crucial support during our most difficult year so far."