OVER 200 health workers in the Unison and Amicus unions at Sunderland Royal Infirmary staged an unofficial walkout on Thursday of last week. They were protesting against changes to their pay under the government's Agenda for Change scheme-the biggest ever shake-up of pay and conditions in the NHS. Sunderland hospital is an 'early implementer' site being used as a test-run for the government's plan. A week before the walkout, management started to send out letters to inform staff of their new pay bands.
Unlike other early implementers Sunderland decided to introduce Agenda for Change as a 'big bang', moving all staff to the new contracts at once. Those walking out at the hospital included large number of medical secretaries. Two years ago they won better pay after a long strike but, under Agenda for Change, they have been put on 'band three', which will mean an effective wage cut-and losing everything that they fought for in their strike.
Some stand to lose over £1,000 in proficiency-payments received for additional skills. Among others who will lose out are speech and language therapists, who stand to lose up to £8,000, and engineers who will lose between £4,000 and £6,000. The anger among staff has been so great that management have had to agree to leave most of those who would lose out on their existing 'Whitley' conditions.
Local union branch officers are angry that attempts are being made by the national union leadership to claim the problem lies with the local job evaluators. But they have done nothing more than apply, to the letter, the criteria in Agenda for Change.
Other early implementers such as West Kent have apparently encountered the same problem with medical secretaries, but have changed the jobs in order to take on extra duties, moving the secretaries up into the next band.
With North East Ambulance workers on the verge of industrial action over the issue of unpaid meal breaks, it is apparent that Agenda For Change, despite the gloss being put on it by management and the union leadership, is sinking into deep trouble.
The whole point of early implementer sites was to give a real picture of what it would mean-if some staff are not moved onto Agenda for Change the results will be distorted. Everything that those people who argued against this scheme said is coming true.