“They are still striking & fighting with everything that they have to win this dispute, not just for themselves, but for every worker up & down the country suffering at the hands of bad employers.”
By Claire Breeze, UNISON Regional Organiser
The fire and rehire tactic carried out by employers across the country has been increasingly used as a weapon against workers across a variety of sectors in the pandemic.
Such practices may be more associated with multinational companies, but the porters at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham have been the latest group of workers to be hit with the fire and rehire weapon.
That University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB), a publicly run NHS Trust, can treat its loyal and experienced staff in such a way, with hundreds of years of combined service, in the middle of a pandemic is a real kick in the teeth.
UNISON members received dismissal meeting letters in February, where porters were told to sign up to the Trust’s new rota or be sacked.
The Trust had already walked away from negotiations and ACAS talks, and these talks were never meaningful from the employer.
The Trust bypassed the UNISON branch officers and sent dismissal meeting letters directly to members home addresses.
UNISON objected to the Trust’s decision to bypass the union and after much debate, they eventually shared the names, dates and times of the dismissal meetings.
At the dismissal meetings, members were told that they were being dismissed and they had the choice to accept the new imposed rota or be given five days to consider whether to accept or reject. If they rejected the new rota, they would be dismissed and given their contractual notice.
Any members that attempted to record that they were signing under duress or working under protest were immediately invited to another dismissal meeting and advised that it wouldn’t be accepted. They were then coerced into signing up to the rota.
This Trust have used Fire and Rehire in its most severe and cruel form.
What responsible Trust would escalate an industrial dispute during an unprecedented pandemic?
What kind of management, Chief Executive and Trust Chair would impose detrimental changes to hard working and long serving porters while putting their lives at risk and covering for staff sickness and shielding? These decisions are dishonourable and despicable decisions.
Our members may have been coerced into signing up to these detrimental terms and conditions, but they are still striking and fighting with everything that they have to win this dispute, not just for themselves, but for every worker up and down the country suffering at the hands of bad employers.
UNISON members have now taken 20 days of strike action at Heartlands, with 4 more dates approaching this month. Despite the challenges of running picket lines in a pandemic, the support that the porters have witnessed – online and physical – throughout the dispute has given them the strength they need to win.
Hundreds of cars have beeped their horns in support, colleagues from the Hospital have offered their solidarity, and activists and senior figures in the trade union and labour movement have given their solidarity in various online activities such as online rallies and Twitter Storms using the #HeartlessHeartlands hashtag.
In an online strike rally last week, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said “These fire and rehire tactics are a scandal and they should be ended right now. It is simply unacceptable, that in a time of such extraordinary pressures, in the biggest crisis of the history of the National Health Service, that our staff are attacked like this.”
UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea said “No one will benefit from this (new imposed rota). Staff will suffer. And as we know, that when staff suffer in the NHS, patients pay the price for this too. So the result of this will be, we know, high turnover, high sickness and absence rates for the Trust. Poor sleep, poor diet and poor health for the porters.”
Roger McKenzie, UNISON assistant general secretary said at the rally: “This is a seminal dispute, not just for UNISON, but a seminal dispute for the trade union movement… if they continue to win by doing things like this, then we will all lose.”
Take Action: Please support the striking porters by writing to UHB CEO David Rosser and Chair Jacqui Smith:
Chief Exec: David.Rosser@uhb.nhs.uk
For the attention of Ms Jacqui Smith UHB Trust Chair & Dr David Rosser UHB Trust Chief Executive
Dear Dr David Rosser and Ms Jacqui Smith
Re: Fire and Rehire Employment Practices – Heartlands Porters
I am writing to express my extreme displeasure regarding the way in which senior management in positions of power and influence at UHB Trust have treated their portering staff. As you have the most senior roles within this Trust, I lay the blame for this shocking employment practice firmly with you both.
I am sure just like me, and many other people in this country, you came out to clap for NHS workers in recognition of the selfless acts they took every time they turned up to work their shifts.
In doing so not only did your staff risks their lives (and that of their families) by attending to the needs of the sick and vulnerable at Heartlands hospital, they did so for a period of time without appropriate PPE. Your employees undertook selfless acts of bravery on a daily basis, putting themselves further at risk by covering for staff shortages due to spiralling cases of covid amongst staff and covering for staff when they had to shield or self-isolate.
For the Trust to then push ahead with a Management of Change proposal to change the current shift patterns of these staff who had already collectively demonstrated how strenuously opposed they were to the proposed shift pattern due to the financial and health impacts it would have upon them, brings into question your suitability to hold such senior positions.
The porters affected by this proposal had expressed their serious concerns throughout the formal consultation period, and rather than meaningfully listening to the porters genuine concerns relating to job security, financial loss, health concerns and family caring responsibilities, you both agreed to impose Fire and Re- Hire employment practices upon this already vulnerable group which is unforgivable under the circumstances.
During a worldwide, unprecedented Covid 19 pandemic, you both made a calculated decision to impose a Fire and Re-hire strategy over and above the health and wellbeing of the porters and the portering provision which in my view is reckless and at best ill conceived.
In order to improve the morale of the portering workforce, and in order to rebuild trust with the wider East Birmingham community and health community at large, I ask that you withdraw the imposed rota and allow the staff to undertake their roles as porters without living in fear of poverty, ill health or loss of livelihood. I look forward to your response within 7 days of receipt of this email.