HEALTH WORKERS in the Unison union met last week to decide whether to recommend Agenda for Change—the government’s sweeping reorganisation of NHS pay and conditions—in their ballot which starts this week. Karen Reissmann, a member of Manchester Community and Mental Health branch, was one of those calling for a “no” vote. She spoke to Socialist Worker about the conference.
THE CONFERENCE voted to recommend Agenda for Change to members by about two to one.
The union’s leaders were so desperate to rush the deal through that they refused to take a card vote.
The vote did not reflect widespread enthusiasm for the deal. When the union’s lead negotiator, Paul Marks, summed up the debate, the people on the platform who were in favour tried to start a standing ovation.
But the response was muted, with only about a dozen people standing up. Those arguing against the deal won lots of respect from delegates.
People recognise there have been real problems at the sites that have been testing the deal.
Out of 12, two—North East Ambulances and Sunderland—have seen industrial action because of people losing out over the deal.
There were a number of reasons why the deal went through despite the doubts of many members.
The government made concessions such as improving the bottom pay band and removing unsociable hours payments from the deal, and most delegates did not think we could win more.
And some in the union felt that we should not stand up to Labour in the run-up to the election.
There will, however, be more battles ahead. The final motion that was passed said that, when the union negotiates unsociable hours payments with the government in 2005 no health workers should lose out.
I don’t trust the negotiators to make sure of this. We will have to be organised to fight for it.
Agenda for Change requires lots of union time to implement. There are NHS trusts up and down the country where the union has been very weak.
One positive thing to have come out of Agenda for Change is that union branches have been forced to recruit more stewards—which means more organised union members.