Support workers hit by austerity and outsourcing
Unison members working for Bron Afon housing association in Torfaen have taken the first of three days strike action after annual wages for the overwhelming majority of staff in the Supported Living Team was cut by over £3000.
Support workers at Bron Afon, provide assistance to vulnerable people over the age of 50 in their own homes, helping them access benefits and acting as their advocates with housing and financial problems. They provide practical support too to those with mental health issues, addictions and those who have experienced domestic abuse.
But when Bron Afon re-negotiated its contract with Torfaen council it cut the workers’ wages from £23,572 to £20,416 and increased the workload – increasing client numbers under the new contract means staff are having to work even harder for significantly less pay. Their pay has been cut so low that it has even fallen below the social security benefits that some of the service users receive.
Bron Afon have implied that in some way the Bron Afon workers are hypocritical because they applied for their own jobs back under worse terms and condition when the new contract began. But what choice were they given? It was a case of take it or leave it by Bron Afon!
Clearly Torfaen council bear much of the blame for the shameful actions of Bron Afon. The housing association negotiated a new contract with the council beginning in April and claims that the only way it could keep the contract was be bidding at such a low level that wages had to be cut. Torfaen council is getting a service from Bron Afon workers at cut-price wage levels.
The strike at Bron Afon emphasises the dangers of the outsourcing epidemic that has engulfed Welsh council workers. Most of the councils boast of being living wage employers, including Torfaen council – Anthony Hunt, the council leader, is pictured (below) holding a sign proclaiming the council’s living wage credentials.
But this claim is completely undermined as all the councils in Wales, mostly Labour councils, are forcing down the wages of outsourced workers who are delivering services that used to be provided by council workers. And more and more services are being outsourced and handed over to private companies. So in fact the majority of workers providing council services will be earning less than the living wage.
The actions of the Labour councils and behind them the Welsh Labour government fly in the face of the policies against austerity and low pay that Jeremy Corbyn championed in the general election, and won so much support for. Its not just the Tories who are adopting the ‘money tree’ strategy – Welsh government and Labour councils are proclaiming that there is no money there, when a very weak austerity-driven Tory government could be swept aside.
A Corbyn-led government could brought to power very soon that could end austerity immediately. There is a real chance that the cuts could end in a matter of months but still the conservative Labour councils in Wales bang the drum for austerity. Just last week Huw Thomas, the newly-installed Blairite leader of Cardiff council, warned “the next period is likely to be characterised by further reductions in public expenditure”
So all council workers should support the workers at Bron Afon and support their picket line on July 21. But pressure must also be brought on the Labour and Plaid councils, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Welsh government to end the attacks on public sector workers in Wales.
You can send messages of support to Unison members at Bron Afron – send emails to A.Gittins@unison.co.uk