'THIS IS about modernisation in the Blairite sense-things are going to get a lot worse for health workers and patients.' That's how health worker Gill George explained why it is a priority for all health workers to campaign against the government's new package 'Agenda for Change'.
Gill was speaking at a meeting of supporters of the rank and file paper Health Worker last Saturday, which launched a campaign against the government's plans. The government claims the new package will improve health workers' pay and conditions.
But health workers at Saturday's meeting agreed the whole package was divisive, pitting health workers against each other. 'This is not in our interests. It is about healthcare on the cheap,' explains Gill. 'The government wants to increase our productivity. The Department of Health has already boasted that this will squeeze 65 million extra working hours from health workers. The government wants to transfer more and more tasks from experienced staff to cheaper staff. The whole scheme is underfunded. The total amount the government has allocated for the new package is just £300 per worker each year over a five-year period. The document, which was negotiated with our union leaders, says that any pay rises and changes to pay scales will be 'within the financial constraints'. That means our union leaders have signed up to low pay and underfunding for the NHS. They have accepted the money is there to drop bombs on Iraq but not to fund health.'
Health worker Lynne Hubbard said, 'This is a disgrace. It is tied into a pay deal worth just 3.25 percent a year. It introduces performance-related pay-workers will have to pass 'competency tests' to go up the pay scale. What the government gives to one health worker it takes from another. Just like the firefighters, modernisation means attacking our working practices.'
Fighting the government's proposals is an urgent priority for all health workers. All NHS unions will ballot on the deal in the coming weeks and months. Leaders of most unions are recommending the deal.
But leaders of the biggest NHS union, Unison, are split on the issue and have not finally decided their position. There is a special conference on the issue in April before a ballot of members. Health Worker is urging local activists to call meetings in local hospitals and other NHS workplaces involving workers from all NHS unions.