HEALTH WORKERS in the Unison union assembled in Glasgow on Monday for the union's health sector conference. It discussed issues that could lead to a major confrontation with the government in the autumn.
The conference was dominated by discussion of the Agenda for Change. The move will affect the pay and conditions of every NHS worker. If it is implemented, every worker in the NHS-the biggest employer in Europe-will be put onto one of several hundred new "job profiles".
Last year most health workers were in favour of pressing ahead with Agenda for Change. Unison members agreed at a special conference to hold a trial of the scheme at 12 "Early Implementer" sites around the country. They were promised that almost every worker would get better pay and conditions.
But the results of the trial are painting a very different picture. Unison national secretary Paul Marks, who is leading the negotiations over Agenda for Change, was forced to admit that there were problems.
Many workers would be moved to a lower salary and would need "protection". This would keep their pay fixed when agenda for change is introduced. But as Claire Williams, a delegate from Newcastle City Health, argued, "Protection, where workers mark time on their salary, is effectively a pay cut after the first year. I am not going to negotiate a pay cut for one group of my members to give money to another group."
Initially union negotiators said that 8 percent of workers would need protection. But in some early implementer sites the figure is closer to 30 or 40 percent.
In October Unison is due to hold a special conference to discuss Agenda for Change followed by a ballot in October on whether to accept the deal. This week's conference demanded that the executive should call for a no vote in the ballot if further negotiations are unsuccessful.
The growing opposition to Agenda for Change was also matched by the mood over other issues. Delegates were angry that they were not allowed to question New Labour health secretary John Reid who spoke to the conference. Unison leaders responded to the mood by making speeches critical of New Labour. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis focused on the creeping privatisation of the NHS.
The debates at conference were continued at a 50-strong fringe meeting organised by the Health Worker rank-and-file paper.
WHIPPS CROSS hospital in East London was the site of a major strike victory against low pay last year. Workers won a groundbreaking deal from health contractor ISS Mediclean. But now one of the leading campaigners, Kola Shokunbi, is facing victimisation.
He was suspended and then sacked by Initial-the company that replaced ISS Mediclean when their contract expired. He is accused of shouting at a manager, a claim he denies. Workers at Whipps Cross have overwhelmingly backed a campaign for his reinstatement.
HEALTH WORKERS in Manchester are to ballot for strike action. Manchester Mental Health Care Trust have sacked three workers. Two were on sick leave and one was on maternity leave. They had been cleared earlier following a complaint by relatives of a patient.
The acting chief executive admitted in a letter to the workers, "You were found not guilty of misconduct at a disciplinary hearing in September 2003"-but she sacked them anyway. Mass meetings of health workers at the trust agreed to ballot for industrial action and to lobby the next health board on 6 May.