Dr Ron Singer is the vice-president of Doctors in Unite and was the chair during its centenary in 2014. He joins the podcast today to talk about the utility of trade union membership during the coronavirus pandemic.
Today we’re joined by public health and medical sociology professor David Blane, to discuss the rise in the state pension age, the effect of work in later life on health, and the changing perceptions of key workers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The junior doctors strikes of 2015 were in response to an unprecedented attack on doctorsʼ working conditions, unequal pay and unsafe demands by then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Now, Doctors in Unite stands in proud solidarity with the striking educators, lecturers and researchers in the University and College Union, who have stood shivering on picket lines around the country to protest the unfair working environment they are being asked to endure.
UCU members have been forced to take industrial action following years of stagnating wages, and insecure, zero-hours contract arrangements which leave staff overworked, underpaid, and with no job security.
One striking university researcher explained how workers were simply not getting paid for hours worked. “Many of us are on part time hourly paid contracts. Weʼre paid to lecture, but only the one hour of the lecture. It can take up to two days to properly prepare. So you can either prep a poor quality lecture quickly, or take the necessary time to put the work in – but thatʼs unpaid labour.”
Staff pay has fallen by 20% in real terms in the last decade, with women and BAME workers suffering disproportionately. UCU calls the workloads staff experience “unsafe”, criticising the entrenched culture of casual contracts, while staff are being pressured to work longer hours than ever before.
“I was contracted to work month by month,” said one UCU member. “I didnʼt know how much I would get paid. Itʼs highly unpredictable, very difficult to budget, and incredibly stressful.”
All industries rely on the training that happens in universities. Doctors would not have their jobs without the dedicated enthusiasm of their medical school lecturers and teachers. Educators are passionate about their work, and often conflicted about taking time out from crucial research and teaching. But theyʼve been backed into a corner by an unsustainable culture of casual, insecure work. UCU states that without the threat of strike action, “the employers would not have entered talks and that without the threat of further action, no more progress will be made.”
Doctors in Unite recognises the struggle of all workers to gain proper, fair recognition for their labour. There is no excuse when employers exploit their workforce. We urge all trade unionists and all workers to contribute to the UCU strike fund if they can. Their fight is everyoneʼs fight.