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Peter Hadden

Fight the health service vultures

(November 1996)

From Militant [UK], 15 November 1996.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

500 health workers, all members of UNISON, have begun a two-week strike at five hospitals across Northern Ireland. The strike is against Compass (Ireland) who won the contracts for various ancillary services at hospitals in Downpatrick, Lisburn, Omagh and Enniskillen.

Now that the TUPE employment law protection of previous conditions has gone, Compass are demanding new contracts which in some cases will leave workers £50 per week worse off. The main issue is the proposed abolition of special weekend rates. The company are claiming that if this is accepted, there will be no further changes to contracts but none of the strikers believes them. They also wanted a clause allowing contracts to be altered with only four weeks’ notice.

The mood of the workers is defiant. The pre-strike ballots showed overwhelming support for industrial action – 96% in favour in the Down and Lisburn Trust and 94.5% in favour in Enniskillen and Omagh. The ballot was for an initial two-week strike and for further strikes as necessary.

Compass are part of an international company which last year made £1 billion profit. They are one of a number of vulture-like concerns who have moved in to make a fortune out of the public service as it is broken up and sold off.

In order to break this strike they’ve brought in scab labour from Scotland and England. These people are being put up in local hotels and driven in taxis through the picket lines.

The use of scabs has angered the strikers and made them more determined to win. At the Downshire hospital there was anger when a local scab mounted the pavement and drove through the picket, knocking down and injuring one person.

The constant tooting of passing car horns shows the general support. In Downpatrick plans are being discussed for a demonstration this Saturday to allow the community to show their backing.

Members of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) have been on the picket lines from the first day. Copies of a special bulletin Socialist Voice were snapped up and nearly every picket bought one.

The strike against Compass, linked to the general campaign to save the health service, can have the overwhelming support of the working class, Catholic and Protestant. With this opposition Compass can be given the message that cheap labour companies with their imported scabs are not welcome in our health service.

A hardship fund for the strikers has been set up by UNISON. Donations and messages of support should be sent to Compass strike, c/o UNISON, Unit 4, Fortwilliam Industrial Estate, Dargan Road, Belfast.

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