Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Isle of Man Nurses Strike (1982)

The Island’s nurses in revolt take historic action (1982)

Mike Pentelow (Morning Star) reports on the Victorian-style conditions of hospital nurses on the Isle of Man.

The nurses are taking action in common with their colleagues on mainland Britain

NURSES on the Isle of Man made history yesterday, becoming the first workers there since the general strike of 1926 to take industrial action simultaneously with their colleagues in Britain.

It is a sign of growing dissatisfaction with working conditions and antiquated attitudes to unions by the extremely right wing government, said COHSE

branch secretary Albert Kelly.

The nurses have imposed an indefinite ban from yesterday on non-nursing duties they have to do, which are normally done in Britain by plotters, laundry staff, cleaners and telephonists.

These tasks leave less time for patient care duties, said Mr.

Kelly. Coupled with a refusal to consult staff before introducing changes, the duties have led to the increased militancy.

Membership of the union on the island has soared in the last 18 months from just 25 to 500 out of a potential 1,000 and is still growing. The government has reacted by singling out COHSE from other unions to stop deducting their contributions from wages.

Chairman of the islands Health Services Board, Albert Callin, tried to stave off the action by pressurising nurses with letters sent direct to them individually asking them to continue normal working.

"Any action which affects the duties an employee has been engaged to perform," he wrote, must affect the "standard of care able to be given to patients." of the disabled and there were two disabled telephonists on the unemployment register at the time. But management refused to employ them, saying it could not afford it.

"This really illustrates the attitude of the extremely right-wing government," said Mr. Kelly. It can easily afford to employ them as the difference between the disability grant that they were paying anyway and wages would not have been great.

Another bone of contention is making nurses responsible for checking the reasons why burglar or fire alarms go off rather than employing security staff to do it.

This means nurses at night especially may face the invidious choice of attending medical or non-medical emergencies.

"We want the Health Services Board to have a policy of consultation and negotiations with the union," said Mr. Kelly.

At present they have to fight bitter battles for basic rights such as cooked meals facilities for nurses on the night shift who have to work from 8pm to 7am.

Perhaps the worst exploitation. however, occurs in the private nursing homes for old people which have sprung up because of the aging population. This has brought pressure on geriatric wards in the hospitals.

These homes often have charitable status yet charge patients £80 a week or more while paying staff on nursing duties as little as £40 to £50 a week.

The nurses are not allowed to join the union normally and there is no extra t>ay for week-end work. In, one case night work was paid with an extra l0p a week.

"One of the problems with the Isle of Man is that employers for years have been able to dictate terms," said Mr. Kelly.

Typical of this he added, was the government's refusal to accept any laws on employment protection, equal pay or sex discrimination.

He hoped British unions, many of whom hold their conferences on the island, would take a greater interest in its workers.

COHSE later refused to hold it's conference on the Isle of Man because of its stance on equality issues (unlike NALGO), placing the COHSE branch undre great internal pressure, however it remained loyal throughout