August: it was no holiday

There was no lying on sun-loungers for UNISON or many of our members involved in key struggles at work

Think of August and you might well conjure up images of the seaside, country walks, ice cream, sunshine and holidays. And last month certainly continued the heatwave that started in July – but there was no lying on sun-loungers for UNISON or many of our members involved in key struggles at work.

The month was book-ended by continuing industrial action from Birmingham care workers, who face having their hours and pay cut by a city council trying to save money.

As the month started, general secretary Dave Prentis visited their picket line as 250 members staged the first 12 days of industrial action throughout August against the plans which could see workers on as little as £12,000 a year lose up to £6,000.

And as August drew to an end, 50 of the Birmingham workers travelled to London in the middle of a week of strikes.

The journey included a visit to UNISON Centre and another meeting with Mr Prentis.

With no change of heart from the Labour-controlled council in Birmingham, Mr Prentis pledged the full strength of the union to back up the strikers – most of whom are women – and said the union will take the dispute to September’s Labour Party conference.

And he assured the members: “We will win – we cannot afford for Birmingham council to win.”

Birmingham says it has to tighten the purse strings because of cuts in the funding it gets from central government.

And that is something that is affecting councils and local government as a whole – whether vital services such as home care or the local parks that have been a key part of enjoying the August sun for so many of us.

But nowhere have the cuts bitten deeper than in the crisis council of Northamptonshire.

Since February, the county has gone through a halt on spending, two budgets – after auditors warned the first was unlawful – a government inquiry, the appointment of commissioners, and reorganisation proposals.

And in August it confirmed cuts to services, which UNISON warned will “devastate lives”.

But as the general secretary wrote in his blog: “We will never stop fighting for better funding, better management and better pay for all our public services.”

And that determination to fight for our members was also on show when UNISON sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in the fight for care workers to be paid the minimum wage when working sleep-in shifts.

The entrance of the Supreme Court

August was a busy in month for members in the NHS in particular. It saw UNISON Scotland health workers deliver a 94% yes vote in favour of a three-year pay deal which will see their wages rise by at least 9%, while members in Wales started voting on their own offer (the ballot ends on 6 September)

Throughout the month, and across the length and breadth of England, union branches continued their campaigns against plans to move health members to subsidiary private companies, set up and wholly owned by individual NHS trusts.

August saw members in Leicester and Mid Yorkshire celebrate after plans to change their employment were scrapped by trusts, following campaigning – including preparations for industrial action where necessary – by UNISON.

But in Bolton, the union is balloting members over possible industrial action over their employer’s plans to move them to a wholly owned subsidiary and in Teesside and Wearside, members were packing out meetings to make their “anger and disappointment” clear after the local trust announced plans to set up a private company to employ them.

In fact, the union has been standing up for members everywhere: whether announcing plans for an autumn industrial action ballot to win a decent pay offer in higher education or exposing – and making joint plans with employers to tackle – the scale of sexual harassment in the police service.

Zero Tolerance Warning Sign An American road warning sign with words Zero Tolerance with blue sky