Socialist Worker

Reject shoddy pay deal in Welsh NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2429

Health workers on strike at London’s King’s College Hospital in October

Health workers on strike at London’s King’s College Hospital in October (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Health workers in Wales are frustrated that their Unison union has suspended a pay strike planned for Monday of this week.

They were set to strike for three and a half hours. But the Welsh Labour government cobbled together a two-year deal with Unison.

Unison claimed, “This proposal is the best we can secure through negotiation.”

Ian Thomas, Unison Cardiff and Vale health branch treasurer, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.

He said, “The deal looks better, but all they’ve done is repackaged the money to look like it’s a better one.”

The Welsh government is offering a higher one-off payment, the Living Wage and a 1 percent rise in pay scales from April 2015.

Ian explained, “The £187 one-off payment looks higher than the £160 originally offered, but it’s robbing part time and low paid workers.

“The payment is pro rata—meaning that anyone working 32 hours or fewer will get less than £160.”

But it could be hard for Unison to sell this shoddy deal to its members. “When I went into work one colleague was laughing that the deal was ‘insult to our intelligence’,” said Ian.

The union is not holding a postal ballot. Instead branches will hold meetings to consult members.

There is a real argument going on—and this is a chance to argue for rejection.

Workers in Rookwood and Whitchurch hospitals in Cardiff have already voted unanimously to reject the offer.

Ian said, “Rookwood is a small hospital, but 28 people turned up to the meeting that was originally called to build for the walkout.

“In Whitchurch around 32 members voted for rejection too. This shows the strength of feeling among many health workers.”

Split

However, University Hospital Wales and an occupational therapists’ meeting voted to accept by a large margin. Barry Hospital was split down the middle.

“In England, union leaders want to use health strikes to damage the Tories in the run-up to the general election,” said Ian.

“But the Unison leadership in Wales want to help the Labour government.”

A picket at the Royal Liverpool Hospital

A picket at the Royal Liverpool Hospital (Pic: Rick Blackman)


Unison’s announcement comes after the Tories and right wing press launched an attack on the “meltdown in Labour-run Welsh NHS”. Yet the Tories are wrecking the NHS in England.

NHS England’s finance chief Paul Baumann has admitted that the health service is “on the knife edge” and said he couldn’t “guarantee against any unexpected shocks”.

The number of English hospitals needing government bailouts rose from 17 in 2012-13 to 31 in 2013-14.

New figures show that waiting times are on a six-year high, with 3.2 million patients waiting for operations, scans and treatment.

We can’t rely on Labour to defend the NHS. The Welsh government will have slashed £1.5 billion from the NHS budget between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

But recent health strikes showed where the real power to defend the NHS lies. There were solid picket lines, and trade unionists did workplace collections.

Up to 500,000 workers in the Unison, Unite and GMB unions and the Royal College of Midwives walked out in England on 13 October.

Radiographers across Britain struck the following week. 

These groups are all now set to strike together on Monday 24 November. And a further four unions have joined them. This growing momentum cannot be wasted.

Unison’s Welsh Health Forum is meeting on 20 November to discuss the consultation, and the ballot period ends on 14 December. The union could call more action in Wales.

Ian said, “I’m going to hold a ward meeting next week to discuss the dispute.

“We need to hold as many workplace and ward meetings as possible—and talk to as many people as possible.

“That’s how we can fight to reject the deal and get the action back on.”

Trade unionists and campaigners must build solidarity to help make the walkout a success—and push union leaders to call more action that can win.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.