Bristol care workers at St Monica Trust continue ‘last resort’ strike action over claims of ‘fire and rehire’

Labour MPs, trade union leaders and thousands of members of the public have voiced support for the striking care workers

Care workers in Bristol will walk out on strike today, over claims they have been threatened with ‘fire and rehire’ unless they accept lesser terms.

UNISON members at St Monica Trust in Bristol say they stand to have their weekend pay rate cut by as much as 21%, while the Trust has denied the claims of ‘fire and rehire’.

Why are workers on strike?

Around 100 care workers, registered nurses and residential home staff have opted for strike action as their “last resort” over a dispute with their employer.

Today marks the third day of strike action, after staff walked out last Wednesday (29 June) and on Saturday (2 July).

Another two days of continous strike action are planned this month, on the 10 and 11 July.

Workers say they have been threatened with being sacked if they do not accept new terms, which would involve a pay cut.

UNISON, which represents the workers, says senior care staff will see their pay cut by 21%, while other workers will lose out on around 10%.

Those who stand to lose the most will be more than £3,000 worse off per year, according to the union.

The care staff are concerned that the worsening of conditions in the sector is forcing workers to leave the profession, to the detriment of patients.

St Monica Trust operates four care homes in the South West of England, with workers expected to picket outside each home today.

The Trust has denied claims that it is engaging in ‘fire and rehire,’ and described the changes to working conditions as “an attempt to modernise the way we work”.

Striking staff have ‘no option left’

Care workers are often low paid with poor terms and conditions, meaning many choose to leave the sector to work in retail or hospitality.

Agency staff who have no knowledge of the patients or their specific needs are often brought in and paid up to £7 more per hour than in-house staff, according to the union.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition in support of the workers, while family members of patients at the Trust have spoken out on their behalf.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Staff are taking the difficult decision to strike because they have no options left.

“Despite building wonderful relationships with residents and their families, dedicated employees are being forced out of the door.

“The wellbeing of the elderly residents and their loved ones is being sacrificed in order to cut costs. It’s wrong that St Monica Trust managers are putting profit before people.

“The trust must think about the damage it is doing and abandon its fire and rehire plans.”

Trust denies claims of ‘fire and rehire’

A number of Labour MPs have backed the striking care workers, including Barry Gardiner, who posted a video on Twitter in which he said it was a “disgrace” that the Trust is treating its workers in this way.

Labour MP for Bristol North West, Darren Jones, joined the striking workers and their supporters at a rally on Saturday.

The workers have also attracted support from across the trade union movement, with the RMT’s Eddie Dempsey and Mick Lynch both recording messages of support.

St Monica Trust’s Chief Executive, David Williams, said: “The proposals 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.

“The UK health and care sector has seen a large turnover of staff during the pandemic and subsequently, this has seen an increased use of agency staff across our sector as a whole, which does incur higher operating costs.

“However, by increasing basic rates of pay, attracting new people into the care sector and offering better career pathways, we will be able to recruit and retain more staff, making us less reliant on agency staff in the future.”

“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.

“The threat of “fire and rehire”, is not a term that we would recognise as being a part of the wider consultation process, which the St Monica Trust is legally bound to follow.

“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.