The pressure for a decent pay rise for more than a million workers in the NHS rose this week as Unison, the biggest health service union, announced it would ballot its members for action unless the government improved its paltry 2.5 percent pay offer.
The union’s national officer for health Mike Jackson said his members “simply can’t afford to accept the offer on the table as it stands”.
Unison’s health executive announced that its ballot would start on 3 September unless the pay offer is improved before the end of this month.
This means that there could be industrial action at the beginning of October – days before a planned national demonstration in defence of the NHS which the union expects to take place in London on 13 October.
The Amicus section of Unite and some of the smaller unions have accepted the 2.5 percent offer, but are angry at the staging of the award in two phases in England.
But other health unions – including the T&G section of Unite, and the GMB – have rejected the offer completely and plan to ballot their members.
It is unclear whether the planned ballots will ask members if they are prepared to take action that includes strikes.
Nevertheless, any form of industrial action taken by such large numbers of health workers will be political dynamite under Gordon Brown’s government.
And it could coincide with action by others – including local government workers.
Unison activists are reporting that the mood for action over pay is helping to build the unions that are prepared to take action.
Andy McConnell, a Unison shop steward at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, told Socialist Worker that many nurses and radiographers who are members of “professional” unions are applying to join Unison because they are expecting it to take action.
It is important that health trade unionists move quickly to capitalise on that feeling.
The run up to the ballot period will be during the summer holiday period. But the month of August can be used to hold meetings and rallies over pay, that involve other public sector workers fighting over pay.
Health workers in Scotland are angry that the 2.5 percent pay offer is going to be implemented by Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon without further consultation with the unions.
Unison’s Scottish health committee has agreed that its members in the NHS will be balloted for industrial action over pay, alongside those in the rest of Britain.
Threat to sack medical secretaries at Epsom and St Helier
Activists have revealed this week that the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust in south west London is planning to axe half of its medical secretaries.
These job losses are part of a cuts package aimed at clawing back a massive £41 million deficit.
The campaign group London Health Emergency believes that the work the secretaries do will be outsourced to companies in India – a policy that the Unison union opposes on the grounds of patient safety.
The trust has drafted in management consultants KPMG at huge expense. The consultants recommend slashing jobs in order to save money.
Chase Farm Hospital
Campaigners in north London are blaming the failure of the Chase Farm hospital to follow hygiene rules designed to prevent the MRSA “superbug” on mismanagement and the cash crisis in the NHS.
Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals trust is facing a £12 million deficit this year – and there are plans to close all or part of the Chase Farm hospital due to lack of cash.