First Anniversary of Gmb Strike Action Against Carillion


Today is the anniversary of the first of 21 days of strike action by GMB members at the Great Western Hospital (GWH) in Swindon, one of the earliest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) build and operate hospitals, and only the second opened by Carillion. This long running industrial dispute between the union and Carillion, over the failure of the company to recognise GMB, the unfair holiday system, and the culture of management bullying, which included years of covering up a system of shakedowns and extortion by supervisors, who terrorised the mainly South Asian women workforce into giving gold, money and other valuables in exchange for shift changes, overtime or holiday approvals. This extortion had been reported to Carillion in at least 2007, and the company was aware of the accusations at director level in at least 2009.

The dispute raised the question of how inappropriate it is for profit driven companpanis like Carillion, with a weak culture of corporate governance, to be operating public services. In January the Observer reported the scandalous failure of care at the Surgicare centre in Hertfordshire, also run by the services group Carillion, which mades somber reading. Three deaths of patients who had been admitted for routine treatment prompted an independent report before Christmas, as the Observer recounts:

the report also contained the admission that nurses dealing with the case at the privately run centre had needed a ventilator at 8.30am the day before the patient died, but “no machine was available”. That admission, along with the report’s further revelation that clinical medical records are missing and that the resident medical officer at the Surgicentre did not ask for a more senior doctor to attend to Ms Mansi as her health deteriorated, has provoked her brother, Michael, to demand the closure of the centre, which has been at the centre of a series of scandals over the past year.

The Carillion run unit had already been investigated over potential failings in the cases of six patients who suffered irreversible sight loss after treatment. There have been 21 serious clinical and patient information incidents since the clinic opened in September 2011. The clinic also lost the records of 8,500 ophthalmology outpatients last year, prompting local MP Stephen McPartland to back calls for Carillion to lose its licence.

Carillion is a giant company, with annual revenue of around £5 billion, employing about 45000 people around the globe. Significantly, it earns millions of pounds from offering facilities management services within the UK public sector.

Carillion, was responsible not only for the design, construction and commissioning of the Swindon GWH, but also for on-going operation and maintenance of the £135 million project. Eric Shaw, in his persuasive book, Losing Labour’s Soul?: New Labour and the Blair Government 1997-2007, discusses how the NHS was taken to the cleaners when negotiating these PFI contracts. Not only did the NHS lack the commercial expertise, and were therefore required to outsource the project negotiations and management at enormous cost; but the contracts for operating the hospitals were developed on a deeply flawed risk model, paying the private companies a premium for assuming risk that was in fact still retained by the NHS as the operator of last resort.

There has to be a suspicion that the subsequent sale of the GWH by Carillion was designed to leverage this advantage, having secured what was probably an excessive original price for the 26 year operational contract, they were able to sell their stake once the real, lower, operational risk was known.

In December 2007, Carillion sold its equity in this project to Land Securities Trillium (LST) along with the Harplands Hospital in North Staffordshire and Glasgow’s Southern General Hospita; being paid £21.5m for the three hospitals. The musical chairs didn’t stop there, as Land Securities then sold Trillium to Telereal in 2009 for £750m to form Telereal Trillium and the 10% stake it had in Trillium PPP Investment Partners fund was then again sold to existing investors in the fund and Semperian PPP Investment Partners was created.

So now it is Semperian who owns the premises and the facilities contract for the Great Western Hospital, but it employs Carillion as a sub-contractor.

Carillion itself was formed by a de-merger from the Tarmac group in 1999, and the corporate rebranding obscured the fact that a construction giant had entered the services market in the public sector. It brought with it the hard-nosed, rapacious and money-grubbing ethos of the construction industry.

There is certainly a compelling similarity between the way Carillion has ignored, belittled and denied the reports of supervisor corruption at the Swindon hospital with the record of Carillion’s construction arm of victimising and blacklisting Health and Safety reps on its building sites. Earlier in 2012, Dave Smith, a former UCATT safety rep gained admissions in Employment Tribunal of the involvement of Liz Keates, HR Director for Carillion, with the blacklist; and it was Liz Keates who advised GMB representatives in February 2012 that Carillion would not be upholding any part of anyone’s grievance at the GWH, after 109 staff had given strong evidence of supervisor racism and bullying, and a number of staff had given testimony of extortion and shake downs by white supervisors and managers from their non-white staff. Ms Keates said that “there was no evidence”: disregarding the testimony of Carillion’s own staff.

The common denominator is a seeming presumption to dismiss staff complaints as nuisance or of no value, even where serious matters of site safety or systematic racism and extortion are involved. Although the Blacklist Support Group had been doing sterling work in exposing the activites of the Construction companies, and UCATT had previously raised the issue with MPs, the blacklisting issue acheived lift-off when GMB joined the dots between Carillion’s malpractice at the Swindon hospital, and the history of unlawful blacklisting by the same company in the construction industry.

It is clear from the evidence being produced to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation that Carillion was involved with the blacklisting Consulting Association from the beginning, and has been one of the most prolific users. However, it is not necessarily the worst company; Sir Robert MacAlpine put up the inital money for the Consulting Association, and at first their director, Callum MacAlpine chaired the meetings . The Chief Officer of the Consulting Association last week gave evidence that it was Balfour Beatty who the most hardline approach to blacklisting.

However, what makes Carillion different, and which is of particular concern, is that it is a very major player in providing public services, running schools, hospitals, and council services paid for out of the public purse. Carillion are a multi-billion pound business, for example its recent bid to run education services in Stafford would have been worth at least £700 million, and could have been worth £5bn over the project life.

If Carillion fails to conduct itself in a manner consistent with the expected ethical standards of the public sector, then it should not be considered for public services contracts.

21 comments on “First Anniversary of Gmb Strike Action Against Carillion

  1. Pingback: First anniversary of GMB strike action against Carillion | Left Futures

  2. daniel young on said:

    There for the grace of god do we not hope to get,but their you are underfunded underpaid and ridiculed by a class hell bound on a capitalist hallo.

  3. Congratulations Andy on organising and managing such sustained industrial action. The issues surrounding this particular dispute – racism, bullying, corporate mismanagement, and the deepening crisis within the NHS – involving low paid workers from an ethnic minority describes the awful consequences of 30 years of Thatcherism and the free market.

    Well done in particular to the workers involved for their courage and tenacity.

    Let’s hope it ends in a successful outcome.

  4. I hope nobody takes this the wrong way, it’s been a way that companies like this have worked for a while now, OCS Office Cleaning services are another group of people who will employ what they think are people to scared to join Unions or strike.

    I see to many Asian and people from ethnic communities being employed just because the company hopes they will accept the ill treatment and will be to scared to say anything.

    Thatcher and her band of hangers on I’m talking about Blair of course.

  5. “In January the Observer reported the scandalous failure of care at the Surgicare centre in Hertfordshire, also run by the services group Carillion”

    That I didn’t know.

    I remember reading a Carillion press release that dismissed the whole dispute as a GMB “recruitment drive”. We’ve got a ‘CareUK’ independent treatment centre that operates out of Royal South Hants hospital, but AFAIK nothing like actual hospitals being run outright by for-profit firms. The moment all these services are just declared national property and the contracts null and void, the better.

    Didn’t Carillion also use the Consulting Association’s blacklisting services too?

  6. Mary Harper on said:

    Absolutely disgusting, underpaid…. £15.00 an hour on a Sunday ….. I think not !!!! hospitals not cleaned, audits under 40%, staff attempting to hit supervisors, …….. Staff failing to come back from their holidays on time, staff eating patient meals, stealing provisions that are meant for sick patients………… and you are celebrating a years anniversary, no wonder the country is in such a mess, when these issues are supported. Would you like your family to stay in a hospital, that is not cleaned to a suitable standard, by staff that are earning a decent wage………… with endless amounts of overtime, and endlessly demanding what most workers these days dont receive !!!!

  7. E.M Green on said:

    When will this disruption to our hospital services finally come to an end, with what I have been reading of this dispute it is the Union to blame with maybe one or two staff members who couldn’t do there own job and have hid behind the GMB telling lie after lie.
    It seems to me these staff earn a decent wage and the big dispute started when they wanted 4 weeks holiday at a time to go home. Well what company can manage that amount of leave all at once and still provide a service to the patients. Then this dispute was turned into a personnal vendetta against individuals. The Union was happy to listen to lies that had been made up, or incidents that had been twisted. Ido hope we are going to soon see Mr Newman with egg on his face feeling very embarressed as the truth is beginning to be heard and the lies are being picked up. I do hope you sleep well at night Mr Newman, you are meant to have true facts before fighting for a cause you believe in this is where the mistake has been made, you have only listened to rubbish.
    This dispute is far from over when claims are still made on a daily basis from your memebers, still more lies being told same story just different faces. Time people woke up and remembered that the place of work is a hospital with sick patients who would like to be ill in a CLEAN HOSPITAL.

  8. Mary Harper: Would you like your family to stay in a hospital, that is not cleaned to a suitable standard,

    If carillion are not meeting their obligations to the NHS, then I suggest you report it to Infection control. GMB has expressed the same concerns.

    Mary Harper: underpaid

    The dispute is not about pay.

  9. E.M Green: what I have been reading of this dispute it is the Union to blame

    The dispute started because of supervisors unlawfully demanding kick backs of gold or money for approving holidays, over time or shift changes.

    Practices that carillion, after years of denial, now concedes did happen.

    Surely the union was right to act to stop such practoces.

  10. The Scibe on said:

    Nothing as yet has been proved in regard to gifts being accepted for favors so I think you should be careful with your comments Mr Newman as this could be considered as libelous.
    It is your members who are putting the health of Swindonians in danger. Since the supervisors that you like to talk about so much have left the GWH cleaning audits have dropped from an average of 80% to an audit recently of just 33% all because your members are refusing to do as asked and continually still raising grievances,it has turned in to a total free for all.
    One of your shop stewards has already been proved a liar under oath so exactly what is to be believed.
    Your members are known within the Goan community nationally and many of them feel embarrased to be from the same country and let down by their and your actions.
    It is high time you came to your senses as it will be very interesting to see how many are prepared to stand in court and tell the story under oath. It will also then be proved that it is all a pack of lies and I hope you and your union end up with an awful lot of egg on your faces.
    I trust you will be swift to issue an apology.

  11. “Mary Harper”, “E.M Green”, “The Scibe”.

    Not to engage in ‘do you still beat your wife’ shenanigans, but…

    Does working for Carillion pay well?

    I mean, are you even different people? “Mr Newman”, the inability to properly paragraph etc.

  12. Just like before, we get 3 totally different names, all posting from the same house, all making the same claims but refusing to provide any evidence – and all being shameful examples of people who supposedly support unions.

    And please, don’t come on here posting anonymously claiming something is “libellous”. I know more about the laws of libel than you know about showing solidarity to workers fighting for fairness. Actually you know nothing about that, and I (and Andy) know a LOT about libel laws. So don’t make your fake threats from yet another fake name, just like you always do every time this issue comes up.

    Every time you’ve been given a chance to make a case, you’ve chosen to throw stones. And every time you’ve been given the opportunity to show some compassion for your fellow workers, you’ve chosen instead to stir shit.

    Get out of here.

  13. Hats OFF! to all Carillion workers who have stood their ground with the assistance and support of the GMB and Andy Newman… Some of the comments here including the barely concealed hatered directed at Andy is an indication that this dispute has ruffled some powerful people’s feathers – Once again Well Done!

  14. Well done to Andy and the courageous hospital workers for standing up to these exploitative ,profiteering bastards for so long. Hope to see Carillion get their balls kicked in in Swindon and that further action spreads to their other interests across the country.

  15. Having been in GW hospital for a few days and seen some of the Goan cleaners: they were working at a snail’s pace while talking in Konkani. The toilet in our area was clean because I cleaned it.

    I find it very difficult to feel in any way supportive towards them.