Gmb & Unite Defend National Agreements

Last month’s march to keep Lewisham hospital open
Last month’s march to keep Lewisham hospital open

FULL-scale nhs privatisation under Section 75 of the Health & Social Care Act and cuts to terms and conditions of NHS Staff pose real threats to the National Health Service, the GMB and Unite warned yesterday.

A meeting of the NHS Staff Council took place at Unison HQ on Tuesday, to consider proposed changes to terms and conditions of employees in NHS.

The GMB, Unite and other union representatives on the council voted to reject the proposals.

Unfortunately, Unison and others on the staff council eventually voted 21 to 11 to accept the cuts.

This came after GMB members in the NHS had voted to reject these proposed changes in terms and conditions of employment in a consultation that concluded last Friday 22nd February.

The cuts to Agenda for Change terms and conditions opposed by the GMB and Unite include:

• introduction of locally determined performance-related pay.

• cuts to sickness pay of up to 17%, with no unsociable hours payments when staff are off sick.

• depresses the pay progression for some new starters.

• removes senior staff from national pay agreements.

The Sickness and Progression proposals are enabling agreements. It is only through local Equality Impact Assessments where the full impacts of these proposals can be understood.

GMB will now work alongside staff side locally to ensure any implementation of the proposals is properly impact-assessed.

Rehana Azam GMB National Officer for the NHS said: ‘GMB and others who voted to reject the offer today remain of the view that the National NHS Council exists to support, retain, improve and maintain the national Agenda for Change agreement, and only through a national agreement can we retain a National Health Service.

‘If decisions are going to be made to move away from the principles of Agenda for Change, potentially leading to local and regional pay, as this vote on proposals may do, then we all have a duty to redouble our efforts to ensure we have a fit for purpose national NHS agreement.

‘The NHS is going through unprecedented challenges as the Government continues with their programme to slash NHS funds and cuts services.

‘The Government’s underhanded manner of slashing the NHS is never more apparent than when you look at what they are doing next Tuesday 5th March at the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the House of Lords.

‘The Government have published Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, which any reasonable person will see contradicts many of the assurances made by Cameron, Clegg and the then Secretary of State for Health that the Health Bill will not open up the NHS to full-scale privatisation.

‘The Government are looking to push Section 75 of the Health Bill through under the radar, but thankfully thousands of NHS supporters have recognised this threat and are seeking to an urgent debate so that Parliament can reconsider and reassess whether exposing the NHS to the mercy of the markets is the right thing to do for patient care, services and workers.

‘The NHS Agenda for Change proposals may appear on the surface to indicate that this will secure long-term commitment from NHS Employers to maintain a national agreement. In practice the NHS is constantly being exposed to the market by this Government and Section 75 of the Health & Social Care Act and cuts to terms and conditions of NHS Staff are just two examples of many that pose real threats to destroying a National Health Service.’

Martin Jackson, GMB NHS Chair and GMB NHS Committee member and NHS nurse said: ‘I have worked in the NHS for over 20 years. I worked in the NHS before Agenda for Change (AfC) and have worked to implement AfC for many years and hold a position on the AfC Job Evaluation Group and as such speak with much experience of the AfC.

‘GMB union’s consultation has been extensive and began back in November 2012. In the GMB we were keen to ensure all our members understood the proposals and what the proposals will mean to them.

‘GMB members through the democratic process have voted to reject and as Chair of the GMB NHS Committee I will be working alongside our National NHS Committee Reps to support NHS Workplaces to challenge the implications of the implementation of these proposals particularly as the Proposals on Progression and Sickness are enabling agreements and require the local NHS Employers to collate local data to assess impact and monitor detriments.

‘For those who have implemented and applied the AfC recognise the importance for the agreement to be underpinned by Equality and Fairness and this principle will inform the discussions on implementations locally.’

Steve Rice, Chair of the GMB Ambulance Committee and Ambulance worker, said ‘Thousands of emergency frontline staff just want to get on with the job of looking after the most urgent and pressing needs of the public.

‘I have been an ambulance worker for over 36 years and I have seen significant changes to the NHS.

‘Some for the best and some less so. The current course and this Government just don’t get that cutting services, closing A&E’s, and cutting terms and conditions of hardworking NHS Staff is destabilising the NHS.

‘My members just want to get on with the job of looking after the public and providing the best health care. Why can’t the Government just let NHS workers get on with this?’

Unite also pledged to fight the imposition of changes to Agenda for Change at Tuesday’s NHS Staff Council meeting, which will slash the pay and conditions of more than one million NHS staff in England and introduce divisive performance-related pay.

Unite and other health unions rejected the plans tabled by NHS Employers, warning that the introduction of locally negotiated performance pay would further hit low staff morale and patient care.

The move by the employers comes against a backdrop of pay freezes and rising pension contributions leading to cuts in take home pay of up to 30 per cent for some health workers.

Unite accused NHS Employers of ‘unpicking’ Agenda for Change to soften the NHS up for the privatisation, warning that the changes could open the way for equal pay claims and allow rogue employers, such as the 19-trust South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium, to push ahead with plans to cut pay and conditions.

The changes which will create burdensome bureaucracy for NHS trusts in England are set to be implemented from 31 March 2013.

They will see health workers’ pay progression determined by performance through local negotiations on a trust-by-trust basis and abolish unsocial hours payments for when staff are off sick.

Unite head of health, Rachael Maskell said: ‘Our members have overwhelmingly rejected the changes to Agenda for Change.

‘Not only are they divisive, but they open the way for “rogue employers” to drive down the pay and conditions of hard pressed health workers.

‘It is a very dark day for the NHS, when it chooses to put more pressure on local employers and introduces cumbersome pay schemes when most trusts are struggling to make ends meet.

‘Unite will fight local employers over these changes.

‘We cannot stand back and let employers break statutory obligations for equal pay for work for equal value or press ahead with further cuts to our members’ terms and conditions.’