ALMOST HALF a million health workers are starting a vote on the government's Agenda for Change proposals. Members in the Amicus union started voting this week, and the much larger group of workers in Unison will vote from next Thursday. Agenda for Change is a serious attack on every health worker. Many health workers will be paid as little as £10,100 a year for a full time job.
Even the Department of Health admits that at least 8 percent of health workers face pay cuts. The real figure will be higher. Agenda for Change is also about increasing productivity, introducing performance related pay, and driving through flexible working on the employer's terms. Leaders of the unions are ready to go along with the government. But activists in Unison and Amicus have organised a serious campaign of opposition.
The scale of the revolt has forced the union leaders to call for two ballots in the hope that this will 'ease through' the principle of Agenda for Change. The first ballot is to allow a very poor three-year pay deal to be progressed, and to allow Agenda for Change to be trialled at 12 'Early Implementer' sites. This will be followed by a second ballot in the spring of next year. Our leaders claim that all the problems of Agenda for Change will magically disappear within the next few months.
This is unlikely, given that four years of intensive negotiations have led to such a disgraceful outcome. There is still much to fight for. There is widespread distrust of the proposals that could see them thrown out.
In addition the government has made it clear that it sees the first ballot as the real decision point and they will press ahead regardless of any hesitations the union leaders have. This could cause further tension. The priority for every NHS activist in Unison and Amicus MSF is to work for the highest possible no vote in the first ballot.
Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Goole
HOSPITAL WORKERS at Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Goole hospitals are stepping up their strikes against private health firm Carillion. The workers at the three hospitals organised a fourth 24-hour strike on Thursday of last week. They felt angry and insulted at the latest offer from their bosses.
The 400-plus porters, cleaners, catering and laundry workers slog their guts out for minimum pay. Yet their bosses are raking in a fortune from the NHS. Outrageously last week Carillion offered a lousy £4.60 an hour - far short of the £5 an hour the workers are demanding and just 10p above the new minimum wage rate.
News then came through that the top boss at Carillion was paid bonuses of £141,000 on top of his already massive salary last year. Carillion chief executive John McDonagh received £616,000 altogether. Two of his fellow directors were paid £390,000 and £400,000. Carillion saw its profits soar to £42.2 million last year.
Even if the strikers get the £5 an hour they are demanding it would take them 14 years to equal the £141,000 in bonuses paid out to Carillion's chief fat cat. Workers have decided to up the strike pressure. They planned a two-hour walkout this Thursday on May Day. They will then strike for four days next week, from Wednesday 7 May to Sunday 11 May. Supporters need to increase solidarity.
Make sure you do a solidarity collection in your workplace and local community group or organisation in the coming week.
Merseyside examples show that people at the bottom will get less
I AM a TGWU union shop steward and a healthcare assistant (with over ten years service) at the Wirral Hospital Trust on Merseyside. Under the proposed Agenda for Change many of our staff look to lose between £20 and £30 a week.
As usual, it's the people at the lower end of the pay scale who get hurt. Agenda for Change will result in pay cuts for large numbers of health workers and changes in the payment for unsocial hours and weekend working could seriously disadvantage many of our members. It could particularly disadvantage many part time women workers who work weekend shifts.
We are calling on our union to urgently convene a national conference for all TGWU health service shop stewards, before such sweeping changes are voted on. One example of who will lose out is Margaret, a weekend domestic. Margaret has worked as a domestic for the Wirral Hospital Trust for 19 years. She works 11 hours - Saturday 2pm to 8pm and Sunday 2pm to 8pm. She has a 30 minute unpaid break a day and her hourly rate is £4.62.
Under Agenda for Change Margaret would lose £22.32 or 27.6 percent of her pay. Patricia, a catering assistant, has worked for the NHS for 29 years. She works 13 hours a week, 1pm to 7.30pm on Saturday and 12 noon to 7.30pm on Sunday. She has a 30-minute unpaid break.
Under Agenda for Change Patricia would lose £30.17 or 28.39 percent of her pay. I hope you can understand our plight. I read an article in Socialist Worker about Agenda for Change while returning from the last anti-war demo in London.
Phil Reilly, healthcare assistant, Merseyside
THE LATEST issue of Health Worker, the paper for rank and file trade unionists in the health service, is a must. It leads on Agenda for Change and the campaign against it by health workers. Our influence is growing. At Unison health conference the Health Worker fringe meeting was over 100 strong.
Orders for the paper increase issue by issue with some union branches now taking up to 1,000 to distribute.
They know that Health Worker will help answer the questions about the alternative to simply accepting whatever New Labour wants to dump on us. Please order your copies now via your union branch or as an individual.