Greens must stand shoulder to shoulder with striking care workers
Dignity, respect, having your voice heard. These are very basic things to expect in life, whether that’s at home or on the job. But for so many people working in our health and social care system, they are held out of reach by low pay, terrible conditions, and overwork.
On Tuesday, I and four other Green Party members had the privilege of hearing from workers from Sage nursing home in North London. They told us their stories – stories of poverty pay, stress, overwork, dangerous workplaces without the protective equipment in a global pandemic. They told us how these things made them feel belittled, used, and disrespected. Now, as they prepare to take strike action to get the justice they deserve, we are asking Greens to stand with them and offer practical solidarity.
We met women from across the world – from Jamaica, the Philippines, Eritrea, Ecuador and elsewhere – who have between them spent decades working at Sage nursing home. Their commitment to what they do and to looking after the home’s residents is palpable and came across in everything they told us.
But they allege that their employer refuses to show them the commitment they deserve in return. We heard how a toxic combination of low pay, miserable statutory sick pay, bad management, poor annual leave, and under-resourcing has led to persistent and unnecessary suffering. Andrene told us how low pay forced her to sit down with a calculator each month, choosing between which bills to pay and which to defer. Flordeliza told us how, because Sage offers only statutory sick pay (currently under £96 per week) and her wage does not allow her to build up savings, she was forced to use her paid annual leave to recuperate from a vital operation. I strongly encourage you to hear their stories for yourself, by visiting their union’s website.
To address these injustices, the workers at Sage are not asking for the world. They are asking for a living wage of £12 per hour, full sick pay, unsocial hours pay for nights and weekends, and the same annual leave and conditions any NHS employee would get. These changes would make life in London, a city unremittingly hostile to low-paid working people, at least basically manageable. More than that, these changes would enable Sage’s workers to get a modicum of dignity and respect they currently do not have.
Their employer, shamefully, is refusing to offer any settlement. Worse still, Sage’s management entered into ACAS mediated discussions before unilaterally deciding they would be offering no improvements to pay and conditions and even denying workers’ elected representatives paid leave to attend discussions in person. Speaking to us, the workers were adamant that their voices must be listened to and they must have a say in how they are managed. By denying them elected representation and refusing to recognise their union, United Voices of the World, Sage’s management is denying them even this.
Perhaps worst of all, Sage convened its staff without notifying their union and told them there was no money to meet their demands. All the while, they have retained a union-busting lawyer who charges £354 per hour. This is not the behaviour of an honest and responsible employer.
The workers told us that in the light of management’s behaviour they have no choice but to take strike action. Earlier in the year, UVW members voted 100% in favour of action. These workers are committed to taking the brave and difficult step of a walkout. As Green Party members and supporters, we must be committed to supporting them in all the practical ways at our disposal.
I strongly encourage you to donate to their strike fund, write to Sage nursing home’s trustees as a local party, sign their petition and join them on the picket line in the days and weeks to come. If you are based in London and want to offer practical support in person, reach out to me at email@example.com or sign up to get involved with UVW.
This fight may be in North London, but a victory would shake the very foundations of the UK’s inequitable social care system. It could empower other care workers to come together and assert their value against similarly abusive bosses. The way to a fairer care system starts with struggles like these. Please show support however you can.
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