150 NHS mental health workers in Manchester who have been on strike since early November following the sacking of Karen Reissman are to return to work on Monday 17th December, without having secured her reinstatement.
The strike is now set to be replaced by a "national Unison campaign". In place of industrial action the union is supporting a claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal, an early day motion by Unison sponsored MPs and looking to organise a national lobby of parliament in the New Year.
The sacking of Karen Reissman was widely seen as an attack on the branch as a whole as a reprisal for a long standing campaign against cuts and privatisation, including a successful strike in January 2007 which saved at least 40 nursing and therapy jobs as well as avoiding a hostile round of pay regradings. Following this victory a new Chief Executive, Sheila Foley, was employed by the Trust on only a 12 month contract. Foley is 62 years old and unlikely to want another job after this, and appears to have been brought in for the specific purpose of breaking the union. Further evidence for this is the fact that she is being paid £135,000 for those twelve months, £25,000 more than the advertised rate, after being found to be 'exceptional'.
Another employee from the same trust has also been sacked after circulating a spoof email criticising Karen Reissman's dismissal.
Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, said “UNISON will not be silenced and we shall continue to campaign through all available channels to obtain Karen’s reinstatement.” Unison officers have shown no interest in making an effort to spread the strike, however, which many observers saw as the key to victory for the striking health workers; indeed Social Workers from a different Unison branch in the area were used by Trust bosses to do cover work for those on strike.
One of the strikers told Libcom: "They are desperate to have us back at work, as they are really struggling. We also have a great deal of support all around the Manchester area. This is a suspension of the strike, we are not ending it, and we will be out again - we are still fighting."
Plans are being made for more strike action as well as lobbies and demonstrations in the New Year.