Hundreds of medical secretaries in the north east of England are set to strike for three days from next Tuesday. The women workers are some of the lowest paid in the National Health Service. Most of them earn less than £13,000 a year. For years they have put up with low pay, working in an underfunded NHS without any reward for their work.
Now they face being piled up with extra work but still receiving a miserly wage. The secretaries have drawn the line. They are sick of being treated as low paid dogsbodies while performing a vital job in the NHS. They have been inspired by the successful action of medical secretaries in Glasgow last year, who won an improved pay rise by taking all-out strike action. The workers, members of the Unison union, delivered overwhelming votes for strikes to win regrading to take their pay to £15, 000 a year.
Medical secretaries in Sunderland voted by nearly 94 percent (118 to eight votes) to strike on a magnificent 93 percent turnout. In Northumberland secretaries voted by 88 percent (106 to 14 votes), on an 86 percent turnout.
Ballots are also planned in the rest of the northern region of Unison, which includes Durham, Teesside, Cumbria and Gateshead. A meeting of union representatives on Friday of last week decided to call workers out in the two areas for three days from Tuesday.
'Medical secretaries have had enough,' says Yunus Bakhsh, a member of Unison's national executive and branch secretary of the Newcastle City Health branch. They want a regrading and a recognition of the importance of their jobs. They play an essential role in healthcare. The strike votes represent a longstanding grievance about the undervaluing of their role. People are really up for the strike. It's not just about the money. They have been inspired by the success of the medical secretaries in Glasgow in winning a regrade last year. That proved that if there is a campaign people will respond to the call for action. This dispute is going to be rolled out across the region, NHS trust by NHS trust. Medical secretaries are angry, want to fight and can win.'
This is a dispute about the future of our NHS-everyone should get behind it, raising support and solidarity.
Send messages of support to Unison Northern Region, 140-150 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6TH. Fax 0191 245 0899.
Read more about the medical secretaries' fight in the new issue of the rank and file paper Health Worker. The paper, written by and for health workers, is packed with articles on fighting privatisation, the struggle of student nurses in London for decent accommodation, and much more.