AMBULANCE WORKERS in the north east of England are threatening to take industrial action over management plans to stop paying them during meal breaks. The threat of action, which could take the form of an overtime ban, is another blow against Agenda for Change-New Labour's planned shake-up of the NHS. Under Agenda for Change every NHS worker would be put on a new contract. The North East Ambulance Service is one of 12 Early Implementer sites testing the scheme.
The government promised that only a tiny minority of health workers would lose out under Agenda for Change. But the experience of the Early Implementer sites has shown that large numbers are set to see their pay and conditions worsen if the scheme is introduced nationally.
Ray McDermott is the Unison union branch secretary for the North East Ambulance Service. He told Socialist Worker, 'Historically ambulance workers have had paid meal breaks because we are available to answer calls during the breaks. 'Under Agenda for Change they want us to be put on a 37.5 hour week without including meal breaks. We would be expected to sit on station unpaid. They have offered us a one-off payment of £20 but this would only be paid if we were called out.
'We're still talking to management but we've balloted so, if the talks break down, we can call industrial action in seven days. We were surprised by the ballot result-96 percent in favour of action on a 75 percent turnout.' Later this year health workers will be balloted nationally on whether to implement Agenda for Change. Ray McDermott says, 'We were told by the union leadership that only 8 percent of health workers would lose out under Agenda for Change.
'I think that far greater numbers will lose and that many will want to vote against it in autumn. The Advanced Cardiac Technicians in our service, who travel in ambulances alongside paramedics, stand to lose between £1,000 and £2,000.'