Wednesday, April 02, 2008

No power greater anywhere beneath the sun

Today in Wellington there was a picket outside Spotless headquarters. It was attended by 60 people, 30 buckets, a brass band, members of 7 unions and 1 students' association, 1 MP, and 2 people the police wanted to charge as terrorists.



[The photo comes from The Standard who were also represented]

The picket was part of a day of strike action against Spotless. Nine months ago the DHBs and sub-contractors settled with the Service and Food Workers Union. This settlement meant a significant increase in the payrates. Spotless still haven't paid the new rates or the back pay. This was the same company that held up bargaining last year, and locked workers out illegally. Now they're flying non-union workers around the country to scab, rather than giving the workers their damn money.

Spotless's behaviour isn't abnormal or an example of 'one bad apple'. The ability to screw workers like this is the reason that subconracting was introduced in hospitals. As I wrote last year:

Theoretically businesses, and government organisations, contract out services. They contract a company to clean, or to perform a certain task. But in reality they're contracting out employment.

Cleaning is a really good example of this. It's a low capital industry, and large cleaning companies don't get huge economies of scale. Companies get their printing done by a contract because they don't print enough to justify having the equipment sitting around all day. It takes about the same amount of equipment to clean a hospital whether the equipment is owned by Spotless or the Hospital, and neither of them can use the equipment elsewhere. In fact, by contracting out companies, and government organisations have to pay extra, to cover the profit that any cleaning company is going to make.

So why do hospitals (or businesses or anyone else) contract out their cleaning? Because they can use the tendering process to drive down the cost. To win tenders, and bid lower than other cleaning companies, the winning company has to either pay their workers less, or get their workers to do more cleaning in less time.

Contracting out is so effective, because everyone can claim that they're not responsible. The cleaning companies aren't responsible, because they can't afford to pay any more than they're given. The hospital that contracts out its cleaning isn't responsible because it's up to the sub-contractor how much money to pay.


Wellington hospital workers have already won the battle to get rid of Spotless, they've already got their payrise, and they're not on strike. Still, lots of union members from Newtown hospital attended this protest to show solidarity with workers at other hospitals who had not. That solidarity is the reason they won last year, and the reason they're going to win again.

Spotless workers are on strike at: Kaitaia Hospital, Bay of Islands Hospital (Kawakawa), Whangarei Hospital, North Shore Hospital, Waitakere Hospital, Middlemore Hospital, Manukau Superclinic, Pukekohe Hospital, Franklin Hospital (Waiuku), Tauranga Hospital, Rotorua Hospital, Gisborne Hospital, Palmerston North Hospital, Wanganui Hospital, Hawke's Bay Hospital, Southland Hospital, Wairarapa Hospital, and Timaru Hospital. If you live near any of those hospitals go along and show your support, and stand together with those fighting private profit within the public health system.

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