Friday, July 13, 2007

Why The Hospital Lockout Matters

Any time 1,000 workers get locked out it's important that we win. The fight for a single pay scale for service workers in the hospitals is an important one. Raising the starting rate of these low-paid workers to $14.25 an hour would be a great victory. But this is also a fight against contracting-out, and it's a fight we have to win.

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.

It's a vicious way of keeping wages and conditions down, and the only way workers can fight it is by organising. Hospital workers in the SFWU have fought really hard to get this far. An agreement with the DHBs, and all but one of the contractors is a huge step forward. But it will be meaningless unless they can get Spotless to agree to the same terms and conditions, otherwise Spotless will be able to undercut other companies up and down the country, and wages will go on a downwards spiral again.

(Go here for more photos.)

Contacting out can affect all workers. Although low-paid workers like cleaners are the most vulnerable, all sorts of jobs can be done on a contracting out basis. So it's really important that all workers support the hospital workers in this battle against contracting out, and for one wage scale for all workers.

Or, what she said:

Go to your local picket line tomorrow; I'll post details of any other demonstrations. Keep ring 0900 LOCKOUT (0900 56256), and join Idiot/Savant's Pledgebank.

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