THE REVOLT against "Agen-da for Change"-the government's flagship plan for the NHS-is growing. The TGWU has become the latest trade union to come out in opposition to the scheme.
If introduced, Agenda for Change would be the biggest ever shake-up of the NHS-Britain's largest employer. The NHS's 1.2 million workers would be put on new contracts with new terms and conditions.
Initially the scheme was supported by most health workers' unions. But this policy was reversed at the recent Unison health sector conference. Delegates voted to oppose the scheme unless the union's concerns were addressed by the government. Unison's policy is now to recommend a no vote in the ballot over Agenda for Change.
The TGWU have now brought their policy into line with Unison. Health workers are worried by the growing mass of evidence from "early implementer" sites around the country, which have already started piloting the new system.
Large numbers of workers are losing out at these sites, with many needing "protection" to maintain their wages at the same rate under the new contract. At Guys and St Thomas' Health Trust over 30 percent of workers need pay protection. There are also concerns about sick pay and pay for unsociable working hours. The TGWU represents many low paid non-clinical NHS workers, such as hospital porters and cleaners.
Non-clinical workers are one of the groups likely to lose out if Agenda for Change is introduced. Phil Reilly is a TGWU steward from Wirral Hospital, Merseyside. His branch was one of the first to highlight the unfairness of Agenda for Change.
He told Socialist Worker, "I'm relieved to see that our concerns have been noticed and now will be acted upon, but this can only be the beginning in a long struggle. Unsociable hours payments have been removed from the newer staff in my workplace-resulting in lazy management breaching the Working Time Directive to save money. Staff who have loyally worked for the NHS for many years are being rewarded with a pay cut-in some cases of up to £30 a week. The people most affected by Agenda for Change are women and, as usual, the people on the lowest rung of the ladder."
Campaigners in other unions also welcomed the TGWU decision. Gill George, a member of the Amicus executive, speaking in a personal capacity, said, "This is brilliant news-it means Agenda for Change is starting to unravel."
Delegates from the Amicus union are set to discuss Agenda for Change at their health sector conference on 27-28 June. Unison will hold a special conference in October ahead of a ballot of all NHS workers on whether to accept Agenda for Change.