Health workers across the country face severe attacks on their terms and conditions unless a deal stitched up between health unions and national employers can be stopped.
For over a year, NHS Trusts at a local level have been threatening and attacking terms and conditions guaranteed under the national "Agenda for Change" (AfC) agreement. Central Manchester NHS Trust was one of the first, imposing changes including linking incremental pay increases to sickness, a move that was later challenged and overturned in court. More recently, Trusts in the South West have begun planning a breakaway from AfC to form a regional cartel to impose worse pay, terms, and conditions. North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is planning to sack 5,452 staff on 31 March 2013 and re-employ them on reduced terms and conditions.
In the face of these assaults, health unions have completely failed to build a campaign of opposition amongst members. Instead they have engaged in cost-cutting national negotiations, which they say aim to ensure AfC will "continue to be the preferred choice of NHS organisations". Their strategy is to give away terms and conditions in the vague hope that this will feed the hungry employers at a national level and stop them coming back for more locally. Are there any assurances included in the deal to stop local Trusts going further with the attacks? Has there been a moratorium on local attacks while these national negotiations take place? Obviously not. Even by the standards we have come to expect from the health unions negotiators this is a shoddy deal.
Just as in the 2011 pensions dispute, a "heads of agreement" document has been released.
The main elements of the package are to make all incremental pay rises linked to performance, to stop unsocial hours and other additional payments, to agree a 12 month protection package for workers effected by NHS restructure (this can be improved at local level but is likely to become the standard and is much worse than most current policies) and to end preceptorship payments, the faster progression in the first two years at work in a job like nursing or physiotherapy.
The "deal" is due to be discussed at a Staff Council meeting on 9 November and unions will then take it back for consultation. There are some signs that Unite may reject.
Unison will discuss the deal at their Health Service Group Executive on 21 November.
It is vital that health workers from all unions pressure their executive bodies in opposition. This can be done by passing motions at branch and regional level demanding that they reject the concession bargaining. These negotiations are going on without any consultation with members so it is also vital for stewards and activists to get out and tell union members what is going on. A coordinated campaign of action in reaction to any attacks on terms and conditions is desperately needed and will only come from democratic, rank-and-file discussion and organisation within and across the unions.
Mid Yorks NHS workers strike
Administrative and clerical workers at Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust workers struck on Thursday 1 November. Many workers face huge pay cuts, as the Trust tries to balance its books following a disastrous PFI deal. Strikers held a rally in Wakefield Town Hall. Addressing the rally, Unison Branch Secretary Adrian O'Malley said: "We are not to blame for this crisis. We have done the right thing in standing up for our terms and conditions. The support we have received today has been excellent. We hope the Trust will now reconsider its actions."