Conference 2018 – UNISON members and the private sector

Most UNISON branches across Local Government and Health are now having to deal with large numbers of members working for private contractors.
Sometimes this is because homecare and residential care are in the private sector. Increasingly, NHS Trusts as well as councils are setting up ‘wholly owned’ companies (like ‘Southend Care’). Over 30% of our members now work in the private and community sector. Conference debated a number of motions about organising the private sector and fighting threats of further privatisation.

Wigan Strikers
Wigan Hospital workers on strike against transfer of domestic services to a ‘Wholly-owned’ company

Workers from the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital Trust in the North West got a standing ovation when they spoke to Conference about their action against a proposed transfer of hospital domestic services to a ‘wholly-owned’ company. They are about to take another round of strike action if the Trusts’ plans are not halted. It made the discussion about privatisation concrete and it was inspiring to hear from them about a solid campaign to beat back this threat to jobs, conditions and services.

Organising the Private Sector
In the private sector, workers may be on zero hours contracts in a hostile, anti-union environment. UNISON needs new ways of reaching those workplaces and Conference agreed to strengthen the National Private Contractors Forum and to use Regional and branch funds to develop our ability to organise in existing and new private companies.

Fighting the Race to the Bottom
Delegates spoke about the way trading companies save money by creating a ‘two-tier’ workforce as new staff are employed without decent pensions and on worse terms and conditions which is known as the ‘race to the bottom’. This also applies when privatisation is dressed up as a ‘public service mutual’, a ‘cooperative’ or a ‘social enterprise’. We also heard how big contractors like Carillion and Capita either fail, or walk away from contracts if they don’t make enough money. The London Ambulance Service described how private companies would subcontract patient transport to taxi firms!

Decent, good value public services – run by the public sector!
The shocking cost of contractors and of private funding schemes like PFI was condemned. Barnet reported that their council had paid Capita £335 million over the last few years!

  • Conference reaffirmed UNISON’s commitment to seeing public services delivered in a democratically-accountable way with a decent standard of terms and conditions for staff.
  • Conference rejected the use of ‘Public Service Mutuals’ as back-door privatisation.