Six weeks ago, St Monica Trust care home didn’t even have a union rep. This morning, nursing staff walked onto the picket line on their first ever day of strike action.
‘This morning I was really, really anxious because I’ve never done it before,’ said Tina Rossiter, the new Unison rep for St Monica Trust. Buoyed by tea and cake, and the support of many passing motorists, Tina and her fellow picketers held strong throughout the day and look forward to six more days of action over the coming two weeks.
Care staff at St Monica homes across Bristol have taken the unprecedented decision to strike following proposals by management to cut pay including weekend enhancements and bank holiday pay. There are also plans to reduce sick pay allowance from six months to three months.
Under the proposals by management, staff are at risk of losing anywhere from £500 to £3,500, with more experienced staff set to lose most, according to Unison.
Another major factor in the strikes is the move by management to cut crossover time, when staff from two consecutive shifts overlap enabling them to have more one-to-one time with residents, from two hours to 30 minutes.
‘We’re not going to have time to take anyone for a walk, we’re not going to have time to do that one-to-one stuff like playing a game, reading a book, bathe their feet. [We’ve] got no time to do that,’ said Tina.
Unionised carers requested help and were put in contact with Josh Connor, area organiser for Bristol Unison, who advised them in building the union and organising the strike.
Josh said that getting to the point of strike action was not easy.
‘The worry is that people, particularly in these kinds of jobs, are already so demobilised and feel like they don’t deserve better because that’s what the job tells them in terms of the conditions they’re offered,’ he said.
Unionising in the care sector is often difficult, said Josh, due to high staff turnover rates. St Monica was different in this regard as many staff have worked there for ten years or more and have strong connections with one another.
Drawing on those connections, combined with flyering outside care homes and arranging meetings, Josh was able to triple union membership in just four months. The decision to strike came after 82% of staff voted in favour.
’They’re really dedicated to the job, to the residents, the homes that they work in and they’re not willing to have it ripped away from them,’ said Josh.
The picket was supported by members of the IWW, Bristol Acorn, XR Bristol and the TUC.
What about the residents?
One supporter on today’s picket line was Tom, whose nan is a resident of the Cote Lane care home.
Tom said that when he explained the strike to his nan she replied that: ‘she doesn’t want to be cared for by an organisation that doesn’t care for its workers correctly.’
Tom has attended meetings with other families of residents in the run-up to the strike and he says all of them back the nurses.
‘We’re very conscious of the fact that if you cut pay and you cut conditions that is going to impact people in the care home, there’s no way you could do that without cutting their care. So we’re quite concerned as a family,’ he said.
What happens next?
Asked what a resolution to the dispute would look like, Tina said that she and the other nurses want their hours left alone and negotiations on pay.
‘We’re up for negotiation. We won’t say no to everything, we just don’t want money taken away,’ she said.
Despite her initial apprehension, Tina said that striking was the right choice and other workers who find themselves in similar situations should do the same.
‘And of course the more you get supported, you know that people are behind you. So yes, stand up for yourself absolutely.’
St Monica Trust is a charity that runs a number of care homes in the across the West of England. It is overseen by a trustee group which includes, controversially, the Society of Merchant Venturers.
What does the Trust say?
David Williams, the chief executive of St Monica Trust, said: “We believe that the necessary changes to how our care homes operate should be resolved through the continuing process of honest consultation with our employee representative groups, which has already resulted in 80 per cent of colleagues agreeing to the proposals.
‘The proposals that are under consideration aim to deliver consistency in the ways of working across all of the trust’s care homes, improve recruitment and attract new workers into the social care sector.
‘This will also help fulfil our ongoing commitment for the St Monica Trust to be a real living wage employer, while offering a package of enhancements that exceed the industry standards for the health and social care sector.
‘As with any attempt to modernise the way we work and create a more sustainable model for the future, there are, unfortunately, some specific roles that will be more adversely affected than others by the changes. However, these roles will be covered by the two year’s pay protection that will cover any loss of hours, pay and enhancements.
‘Among more than 500 colleagues who work at the Trust’s care homes, this strike action is only supported by 64 individuals. We hope that the remaining strike days will be called off by the union.
‘Every single member of the St Monica Trust team is valued and, as we have done throughout this process, we will continue to listen to our colleagues and address any remaining issues that they may have regarding the care home restructure.’
Strikes continue throughout July on
- Saturday, July 2
- Tuesday, July 5
- Sunday, July 10
- Monday, July 11
- Tuesday, July 12