On the front line of the pay squeeze

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care uk strike

Living wage week is an opportunity for many of us in public services to raise awareness about the unfair conditions being imposed on a large number of skilled, dedicated, passionate people and to highlight the way that current government policies push more people on to low pay.

For me with all my working life (now into my 35th year) working in healthcare, to find myself struggling to survive is like a slap in the face for a lifetime of dedication, caring for people with special needs.

Until the last 18 months I had worked for the NHS, in Doncaster, until the contract was put out to tender. It was awarded to a company called Care UK. Within less than 3 months, Care UK had informed all of the staff that reductions in our terms and conditions would have to be implemented for the contract to remain sustainable. What this meant for me was that £500 a month – the equivalent of my mortgage – was gone from my pay packet.

Many of my colleagues are in similar dire straits. But what makes this especially heartbreaking, is then to be made aware that your employer has shareholders creaming off the top of our blood, sweat and tears – and that Care UK’s owners (who have made substantial donations to the Tory Party) now sit in the House of Lords. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Private equity firms – buying up public services for a quick profit out of the most vulnerable people in society – is morally reprehensible.

For the Care UK strikers, making our stand in the face of overwhelming adversity – accruing 90 days on strike – was a decision we took with a heavy heart and after a great deal of soul searching. But we knew we had to show true Yorkshire grit and say ‘not without a bloody fight will you take away our livelihoods’, I can assure you they had not met the likes of us before. We are like a dog with a bone. We simply will not give up.

To lose 40-50% of your wage is unbelievable.

We are devastated.

One of my colleagues was made homeless by Care UK.

The support of the great British public has been overwhelming. They recognise our fight is for all of us. We all need the NHS, and if we don’t fight for it, as Nye Bevan famously said, we will inherit a system that provides for the rich while the rest of us become ‘collateral damage’. We simply cannot allow these scenarios to unfold.

In recent times we have had meetings with Ed Milliband and asked him to publicly back us and what we stand for. Many on our picket line are his constituents. We are also taking our cause to the Houses of Parliament, where today I will be giving speech about the race to the bottom on terms and conditions, selling off essential public services to the private sector, and what putting profit before people means in practice. We need Ed Miliband and Parliament to put a stop to this situation. The companies who see profit above all other considerations, including the public interest and the mission of our public services, are the ‘true enemy within’. We must find a way to claim back the ‘soul’ of this great country – to give it back to the people.

The call for at least a living wage for our lowest paid colleagues at Care UK is an essential part of our dispute, along with a basic pay rise for better paid more experienced staff who have seen their pay decimated by the cuts imposed on our previous terms and conditions .

To ask for a living wage should be everybody’s right – it’s the least we should be entitled to. The old adage ‘a fair days pay for a fair days work’ should be adhered to – not the shareholders living in the lap of luxury, whilst the workers struggle to make ends meet. We must all stand together in solidarity and determination that we won’t accept anything less.

Roger Hutt is the UNISON Shop Steward for Care UK workers in Doncaster

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