Unite and other health unions celebrated a victory against NHS privatisation at the weekend after a Bristol Trust said it would scrap plans to transfer about 850 non-medical staff to a private company.
Last month it was revealed that North Bristol NHS Trust had paid £12,000 to consultants to look into the plan, where the Trust would set up its own ‘wholly owned subsidiary company’ so that it wouldn’t have to pay VAT nor would it have to employ staff under NHS pay, terms and conditions.
It was put forward by the Trust as a money-saving move but campaigners argued that any savings would be made on the backs of the lowest-paid staff such as porters, cleaners, kitchen staff, post room workers, admin staff and others.
Cutting pay and terms and conditions for these staff would also harm recruitment efforts at a time when the NHS is haemorrhaging workers.
The privatisation plans would have hit recruitment in Bristol particularly hard — according to the Bristol Post, the latest figures have shown that the North Bristol Hospital Trust has the highest level of vacancies in the entire South West region, where 1,000 posts remained unfilled between April and September last year.
The stakes were high and staff weren’t going to go down without a fight. Thanks to a concerted joint union campaign from Unite, GMB and Unison, in which they pressed their case and piled on the pressure, the Trust backed down.
“We recognise that understandably [the privatisation plan] has led to some staff becoming anxious about their job security and their futures,” said the Trust’s facilities director Simon Wood when it was announced that the plan to set up the private company would be scrapped.
“At its meeting on February 1, the Trust Board considered the next steps in relation to a subsidiary company and has taken the decision not to pursue this at this current time. The Board agreed no action will be taken in the foreseeable future, at least for the next financial year.”
Unite regional officer Dorothy Fogg hailed the campaign win.
“This was truly a joint effort from all three unions,” she said. “It shows what we can accomplish when we work together and press our case. It shows that outsourcing – the slash, trash and privatise agenda – doesn’t work.
“I always say that when we raise the issues, we sometimes win; when we don’t raise the issues, we never win — so it’s incredibly important to stand up and put forward our arguments when we’re attacked. This campaign demonstrates that we can successfully challenge NHS privatisation.”
Fogg said much of the credit goes to the hard work that Unite rep Lesley Mansell put into the campaign.
“She is a real credit to the union – she worked so hard on this campaign while also carrying out her day to day duties in her work and representing our members,” she said. “We would not have won this without her.”
Despite the Trust dropping its privatisation plans for now, Fogg highlighted that we’re not out of the woods yet.
“As the Trust has said explicitly, they will not ‘pursue these plans at the current time’,” she noted. “We can expect that they’ll try again in future but Unite will never stop arguing our case. We must remain vigilant.”