On the 6th September, Quarriers workers across Scotland staged a one day strike in response the to the intransigent position of the Quarriers Board of Management. Back in April, management came out with proposals to cut staff pay by up to 27%, reduce entitlement to sick pay and increase pension contributions. The best efforts of the Unison negotiating team were in vain when after three months the best offer on the table was cuts of up to 23%. Quarriers refused ACAS arbitration, removed permission for UNISON to arrange meetings on Quarriers premises, started disciplinary action against a number of staff members who had made people aware of the situation that they were facing and laterally made moves to derecognise the union.
These attacks on pay and conditions would have severe consequences for the two thousand Quarriers staff, many of which talk of having to sell their homes and cars to make ends meet in the straightened circumstances that they would find themselves in, which is why the determination to fight these new contracts is so strong.
A rally held at George Square on 6th September saw hundred of Quarriers workers and supporters gather in pouring rain to demonstrate their opposition to these measures. While everyone there was completely soaked, their spirits were not dampened as “Its Raining Men” blasted from the sound system after the speeches and workers danced in the middle of the downpour.
For all of the dire consequences facing the Quarriers workers, this fight is bigger than just them. The justification for the proposed paycuts is a reduction in the amount allocated to care services by the public sector. This has implications both for carers and for those who require care services.
Disabled people reliant on the services provided by Quarriers will see the quality of their care diminish. The paycuts being introduced will take workers pay down to just above minimum wage. It is unlikely that such poor pay will attract the specialised and committed staff required for such a responsible job. Disabled people both living independently and those reliant on state supported services are being heavily hit by the cuts. From the unfair and poor assessments being conducted by the French multinational ATOS under contract by the Department of Work and Pensions, which submits people to humiliating assessments before throwing them off essential benefits, which they need to retain dignity, to services for disabled people being slashed across the board, such as the Accord Centre in the East End of Glasgow or the respite childrens care service in Renfrewshire which has ceased causing severe difficulties to over 100 local families, disabled people are bearing the brunt of bankers recklessness.
The majority of Quarriers workers, nearly 80%, are female – reflecting the gendered nature of the provision care – most carers both paid and unpaid are female. The comprehensive spending review leaves women bearing the brunt of public sector spending cuts to direct benefits, the indirect effects have not been calculated, but are likely to be substantial, as women take up the slack as basic state provision is eroded. Not only will women workers feel the effects of the paycuts, but women who provide informal and additional care tasks will be put under more pressure as the quality of the care staff reduces in line with the compensation offered, necessitating that they take on a greater role to ensure that adequate care is provided.
Disabled people, women and workers within the care sector are all looking nervously at the Quarriers situation. What happens here has enormous ramifications for the rest of the sector. If Quarriers manage to reduce their payrates to just above the statutory minimum, other care service providers will seek to do similar, reducing the quality of care available and increasing the responsibility on informal carers – a responsibility which disproportionately falls on women.
UNISON are currently running a “Don’t Sign!” campaign to buy time for the Quarriers workers to mount a legal challenge to the impending dismissals. Workers are being asked not to sign the new contracts, but instead hold their nerve and wait for notices of dismissal should Quarriers follow through on their threats to issues them. It is critical that support is given to the workers at Quarriers, not only for the sake of them and their families, but for all workers in the care sector, for the disabled community and to reduce gendered inequality. In addition to pressurising Quarriers, pressure must be put on local and central government to ensure that minimum standards of care is met and that money is found to provide this.
First published in the Scottish Socialist Voice, Issue 381