Fremantle care workers campaign - relaunch 7 August 2008

Despite the best efforts of the branch and our regional officials, Fremantle are still refusing to make any reasonable offer to which we could put to our members.

We re-launched the campaign on Thursday, 7 August 2008, starting with a one hour strike. This is the beginning of a sustained campaign which will include further strike action aimed at restoring the terms and conditions stolen from them.

It is 16 months since Fremantle stole staff's terms and conditions on 1 April 2007, and almost 2 years since the Fremantle care workers campaign began. The branch has conducted a high profile campaign (reaching a global audience thanks to the efforts of LabourStart) resulting in a successful march and rally in November and a well attended meeting in the House of Commons in December 2007.

Early in 2008, Fremantle care workers had a meeting for members to discuss the future of the campaign. The message from members was clear... “We want back what was stolen!” The Fremantle Stewards Committee were mandated in the meeting to meet with Fremantle to try and reach a negotiated settlement. Unfortunately Fremantle were very clear, they were not prepared to talk about what was stolen. They believe they have already made enough concessions. (their original proposals were to reduce the hourly rate and increase the working week to 39 hours a week instead of 36 along on top of what they stole from our members last year). In effect everything they gained from Single Status was to be removed at the stroke of a pen!

Firstly, and it can not be understated, the sheer loss in income our members have had to endure has proved devastating. Over the last twelve months the numbers of staff working 60 hours a week either for Fremantle or with a second and sometimes a third employer has increased. The introduction by Fremantle of a 56 hour ‘waiver’ is evidence of the scale of the problem. We are understandably concerned about the number of hours staff are working. However we do not know how widespread this practice is, which is why we have written to Fremantle, unfortunately we have not had a reply. Is it safe for staff and resident for Care Workers to work 56+ hours a week? Is it right that care staff should have to work 56 hours or more to earn a living wage in London?

Radio Four’s Jon Manel recently reported on care for the elderly. The government last month launched a consultation on how to fund social care. Whatever is decided surely those who must carry out the direct provision of care to the most vulnerable must be well trained and receive a living wage. It is not politicians, commissioners, service providers (well not until they find themselves in a residential or nursing home) who pay the penalty for undermining the provision of social care it is the service users and carers. It is not just the loss in pay that accounts for why our members do not want to give up hope. It is the knowledge that if they give up their struggle they know that their pension forecast will drop permanently. Leaving them with the added worry of how they will cope when they retire. This is something Fremantle have not really understood, instead they take refuge behind mind games with our members, accusing the branch ‘of promoting its own views’. Such poor analysis of this campaign does note bode well, particularly in the context of future challenges facing Fremantle in Barnet. We know that this contract has led to a dispute with Barnet Council.

Last year the claim was £8.672 million as it has not been resolved the claim must surely have gone above £10 million. Only three of the planned five new homes have been built. Whatever is going on behind closed doors, what is certain is that the contract will surely be re-negotiated. Will the new contract bring an increase in funding for Fremantle? If not, will Fremantle come back to our members for more? No wonder our members are angry and don’t want to give up. UNISON policy is quite clear, organise to resist privatisation and defend our members against attacks on their terms and conditions. Barnet UNISON stands proudly with our member working for Fremantle and will continue to do so as long as they need our help.