Junior doctors are set to meet for the British Medical Association’s (BMA) junior doctors’ conference in London this Saturday.
It will follow five days of negotiations with the Tories over a dangerous new contract.
In a sign of mounting pressure, Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed to “pause” imposing the new contract during this week. But Hunt laid down strict parameters for the negotiations. He said the focus would have to be on Saturday pay and unsocial hours.
Niki, a BMA rep in east London, told Socialist Worker, “I don’t feel like five days is enough to achieve much. The lifting of the imposition is only temporary and they’ve said the talks will be on Saturday pay, which they wrongly say is the only outstanding issue.”
Robust financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors will go and Saturday would be a normal working day.
As Niki said, “For us it’s about the regulation of dangerous hours and Saturday should not be there in black and white as a week day.”
Any move by the Tories is a sign of weakness—but now is the time to press home the advantage not break momentum. More action is needed now, not intricate manoeuvres that demobilise action.
There is a real danger that Hunt will use the negotiations to break momentum. Niki said, “It’s quite mixed. Some people are downhearted because the action is seemingly having no impact.
“But that’s partly because we’re in a period of uncertainty. When there’s a plan and people know what we’re doing, that lifts morale.
“I’m explaining to people that it will not be won until they turn around.”
There is clearly a section of the BMA’s senior leadership that is nervous about escalating industrial action, particularly to an indefinite strike.
But Hunt has been intransigent because he knows this is a critical moment. The Tories want to smash health workers’ pay and conditions to soften the NHS up for more privatisation.
Trade unionists need to flood junior doctors with solidarity and build junior doctors’ support groups. Union leaders need to give more than just rhetorical support to the junior doctors.
Niki said, “The Tories could be opening these negotiations up to try and save face.
“The other possibility is that they want to lure us into negotiations and then make us look ‘unreasonable’ so we lose support.”
The BMA needs to stand firm and build on the successful “full walkouts” last month by calling more hard-hitting strikes without large gaps between them.
Niki said, “I myself will still be preparing for further strikes, because I don’t think the talks will be enough.”