UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

NHS Workers to Consider 'Tough Choices'?‏

The Coalition Government's determination to see through the most austere cuts to public services continues apace. We have seen Liberal Democrat's doing a complete U Turn on their pre election pledges. What is very clear is the next pre election pledge by both Tories and Lib Dems that the NHS was safe in their hands is turning to dust as we speak. UNISONActive invites reader responses on this important issue

The White Paper: Equity and Excellence is nothing more than a privateers’ charter. Lansley's plans for public health involve handing over the health of the nation to a bunch of businessmen. The gains the NHS saw under the previous Government are at breakneck speed being undone. Waiting lists are on the rise, a commitment for cancer patients to be seen within 2 weeks gone; the return to postcode lottery for drugs and treatment; and the impending crisis during winter when hard pressed services will come under even more pressure.

On top of this against all advice Lansley is pushing ahead with the policy of handing over £80billion to GPs (who don’t want it) to commission services. The impact of the ideological attack on the NHS is part of the wider desire to decimate public services in pursuance of a small state, big market society.

Now there has been an offer from NHS Employers to agree a ‘no compulsory redundancy agreement’ in return for a freeze on progression through increments, with holding the increase in pensions contributions as a sweetener (the NHS Employers Offer has been published in full on the Unite website  http://www.unitetheunion.org/PDF/Chatham%20House%20Discussions%20-%20Employer%20Proposal%20_FINAL_%2010%2012%2010.pdf  ).

At a time when VAT is about to increase by 2.5% in January, NI by 1%, and RPI inflation is already at 4.5%, many NHS workers will already be suffering with no cost of living increase. A freeze on increments will have a major impact, on top of not recognising the service of staff. We will be seeing the outcome of the Hutton Review of public sector pensions next year which is unlikely to benefit health workers. The employers offer of asking the Treasury to wave the 1% increase in pensions contributions is interesting, and is relatively easy to make considering the NHS Pension is in surplus without it in any case.

We need to know the detail on offer, such as what about those members above band 6, who are most at risk of compulsory redundancy, and is this a national agreement or not? If local Trusts are able to 'opt out' where does that leave our national pay and grading framework, Agenda For Change? We all negotiate hard locally to look at redeployment options, including the regional pools set up by the Labour Government, the last thing we need is to give up incremental rises for ‘no compulsory redundancy agreement’ which is not worth the paper it’s written on.

We know from members' surveys their concerns contain a multitude of issues, and the majority when asked do not see their pay rise of itself the only issue to ignite their frustration. That is why it is critical our negotiating and bargaining agenda reflects the range of issues which are important. It is necessary for us to have a debate about the announcement the Government are indicating they are willing to give some concessions, however the key issue is at what price?

It is clear that this is going to be a tough choice for UNISON members and it must be our members and their elected representatives in the driving seat. It is vital that the Service Group Executive leads an informed discussion across the union (through our Branches, Sectors and Regional Health Committees) before deciding on the next steps.

UNISON is seeing health membership growing. This is a credit to UNISON campaigning and organising work, and also a reflection of the anxieties that health workers have about the future. We need to continue our organising initiatives bringing more people into activity in the union, to ensure our density continues to grow.

Times are tough for all public sector workers, and as the NEC recognised last week UNISON is rightly at the forefront of defending members’ terms and conditions, and also public services which our communities rely on.

James Anthony and Clare Williams

UNISONActive invites reader responses on this important issue - Click here