Friday, December 21, 2007

London news roundup

City courier sacked for asking for Christmas Eve off

PAUL WHIELDON, a member of the GMB general union employed for five years in the City of London as a pushbike courier has been sacked from his job by CitySprint because he requested that he be allowed not to work on Christmas Eve.
He wanted to spend the day with his partner of 18 years, Kim, who’s celebrating her 40th birthday on that day. The request was refused and he was sacked by phone. CitySprint operate all over England, Scotland and Wales.
Paul and his 40/50 push bike colleagues cycle between 50 to 60 miles a day in the course of a five-day working week for which they earn around £350, depending on the number of jobs and how fit they are.
The push bike couriers deliver in the centre of London. Paul and his other CitySprint push bike courier colleagues have had two pay cuts since 2006. In 2006 a delivery journey from EC1 to EC2 earned a courier £2.90. For the same journey they now earn only £2.20. If couriers are unable to work they do not get paid. There is no sick pay, no pension scheme or paid holiday arrangements. The couriers provide their own push bikes but are charged each week, by the company for a company uniform, rent for a radio, Citytracker equipment that gives them their delivery schedule, GPS equipment and goods in transit insurance. This amounts to an estimated total deduction from the pay of over £9.00 each week. Paul has been working on the American Express contract. For this he received a daily retainer rate of £60.75 which was paid to him by CitySprint and is paid for each job on top.
Terry Flanagan, GMB Professional Driver Branch Secretary said, “The courier business is full of companies like CitySprint who treat their employees in the most uncaring and unprofessional way. The constant driving down of prices in the delivery sector leads to ordinary workers like Paul being forced to work for very poor pay providing services to the very profitable financial sector, and being forced to pay for the equipment he needs to do his job. GMB have experienced low standards in the courier industry but we do expect them not to sack people for asking for time off at Christmas. Paul offered to work over the period between Christmas and New Year and asked only for Christmas Eve off to be with his partner Kim on her 40th birthday.”

Fight against mental health unit closure

PATIENTS and staff at a key mental health unit in Surrey are alarmed at a decision by the NHS trust to close it. They say the Henderson Hospital offers unique help to people with complex mental health problems.
The South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, which made the decision to close the Sutton-based hospital, said it recognised the tremendous contribution that the Henderson had made over the past 60 years in treating patients from many other areas as well as locals.
In a statement, the trust’s chief executive Peter Houghton said: “The trust can no longer afford to subsidise the hospital at the expense of other services. It is with great sadness that this decision has been taken.”
Medical staff at the Henderson say the closure has been forced by changes made to Government funding arrangements. A year ago, the hospital received national funding, and had a six-month waiting list. But then funding passed to local NHS trusts, and referrals dwindled.
Currently, only 12 of its 29 beds are occupied. Residential care is expensive but psychiatrists say the cost of treatment at the Henderson is recouped in the long run because, after patients leave, they tend to be far less dependent on other services.
The hospital does intensive work with people who have a moderate or severe personality disorder. This means they have enduring emotional and behavioural problems which can involve them harming themselves or others.
Many people at the Henderson have experienced serious neglect or abuse in earlier years.
A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Diana Menzies, said: “These are people who, if not treated, tend to come back through the revolving door and on to acute wards in psychiatric hospitals.
“Closure of the service will add to the impoverishment of psychological treatments. It will be the most vulnerable in our society who pay.”
A woman former patient described the difference the Henderson had made to her. The woman, who was treated at the hospital for a year when she was 25, said: “Before I had always been isolated. I was self-harming, and struggled to be by myself for any period of time. I was like a timebomb of self-destruction.
“But there you learn to let other people help and support you – and you do the same for them.
“Now I’m not involved in psychiatric services in any way. I’ve been completely discharged for two years. I’m working full-time, and I manage to live on my own. Basically I now have a life.”

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