The British Medical Association (BMA) has escalated industrial action against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a dangerous new contract.
Every trade unionist and campaigner now needs to get behind the junior doctors. This is a fight for us all.
Nicki, a junior doctor in east London, told Socialist Worker, “At Whipps Cross Hospital we’ll have picket lines and events like last time. I want to encourage people to come and support us.”
Hunt imposed a new contract last month that rips apart terms and conditions and puts patient safety at risk. It was a challenge to every trade union.
If the Tories can do this to the junior doctors, they will be encouraged to do it elsewhere.
Nicki said, “No worker can accept the imposition of contract. It’s unacceptable that the Tories won’t negotiate with us—and it’s more unfair and unsafe because they are not talking to us.”
The government wanted to remove financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors. The imposed deal would create a new “Guardian” role within trusts with the “authority to impose fines”.
But Nicki said, “There’s talk of a ‘Guardian’, but we needed time to thrash out how it would actually work.
“It’s paying lip service to ensuring safe working hours.”
The new scheme of penalties for overwork is not as robust as the financial penalties introduced in the 1990s amid fears for patient safety. Why would trusts effectively fine themselves?
Hunt claimed that the new contract is necessary to introduce “seven day working” in the NHS in order to improve patient care. But junior doctors already work long hours, including nights and weekends.
The imposed contract would stretch resources that are inadequate for five days across a seven day service.
Nicki said, “There’s not a single doctor who I’ve talked to about the new rotas who thinks it will work.
“The chief negotiator Dalton and Hunt went on the record saying that junior doctors would not have to work consecutive weekends. But the sample rotas show some people working three consecutive weekends.”
Hunt wants to smash health workers’ pay and terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation.
But a united fight can push back these attacks.
Solidarity poured in during the junior doctors’ walkouts in January and February—and that support is growing.
The TUC and other union leaders should organise practical support.
They must urge their branches to invite junior doctors into their union meetings and workplaces.
They should encourage their members to join the picket lines in their hundreds with union banners and workplace delegations.
The Tories have thrown down the gauntlet to the trade union movement. As BMA junior doctors’ committee member Yannis Gourtsoyannis said, “The imposition represents a new phase in the struggle.
“It’s now clear that this is a zero sum game—either they win or we win.”
The TUC should call a national demonstration.
Unison and the other health unions should immediately raise their own issues and ballot their members in the health service.
Every activist must build solidarity for the new strikes. Every picket line next time must be a focus for mass solidarity from workers, students and campaigners.