The Socialist 1 November 2007 |
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Bolton care workers' dispute: Workers' determination yields first signs of success
Since the beginning of October care workers in Bolton have been involved in industrial action to defend terms and conditions of employment which had supposedly been agreed on a national level.
Under increasing pressure from the government to reduce spending, the council attempted to cut pay for carers by removing the right to receive payment for 'sleep-ins' (overnight shifts) when they are on sick or annual leave.
Florence Hill, Bolton Unison chairperson, discussed recent developments with the socialist and told us how after a month of resolute struggle it finally seems that a victory may now be within reach.
After a two-day strike at the beginning of the month, management were unwilling to negotiate. But Bolton care workers refused to give up. They decided that the most effective course of action was to boycott 'sleep-ins' until the dispute could be resolved.
This action came into effect in the middle of October and lasted for ten nights. It proved to be the decisive factor, underlining the essential role sleep-ins play in the work of many carers. It impressed upon the employers that this group of workers were not going to lie down and accept the unfair treatment they had received. After ten nights of industrial action the managers opened negotiations.
Talks with the employers were held on 25 October and after consideration of the proposals they had to offer, industrial action has been provisionally suspended.
The proposed settlement includes a one off payment, ongoing payment for sleep-ins and a commitment to work towards an all-inclusive salary package for carers. Florence told the socialist that: "Members felt the offer was a move by managers to address the situation fairly, and a reasonable platform to build upon in future negotiations." There will be a ballot in the next two weeks to decide conclusively whether or not to accept the employer's offer.
What has been most impressive over the past month of struggle has been the determination, unity and professionalism shown by care workers in Bolton. Florence told us: "This has always been a member-led dispute. Management tried to take on a relatively small group of staff and they have shown management that they are not going to be battered around. The dispute has given strength and confidence to workers in a dispersed field of employment, and brought forward some good activists."
But she was also keen to emphasise that the struggle is far from over. "This dispute has brought forward a lot of deeper grievances. We are really just at the beginning, and a lot of work has still to be done."