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Ambulance workers join the pay revolt

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More than 10,000 ambulance workers are set to walk out before Christmas
Issue 2834
An NHS east of England ambulance

Emergency workers set to take on the NHS crisis with strikes (Picture: Chris Sampson)

Thousands of ambulance workers—999 call handlers, ambulance technicians and paramedics—are set to strike before Christmas. And their battle should be a focus for all NHS workers.

Across large areas of England and Wales, more than 10,000 GMB members in nine big trusts are set to walk out in December. And thousands, sometimes in different trusts, in the Unison union have also reached the anti-union law’s ballot turnout thresholds and are set for action. Although it’s not officially declared, the most likely date is 21 December.

A smaller number of Unite union members have also overwhelmingly voted for strikes. They are all battling a 4 percent pay award, another massive real terms pay cut of more than 10 percent.

GMB member Marie from the West Midlands wrote on Facebook, “The strike can’t come soon enough. Well done to everyone who had the courage to ignore the media and vote for it. The service is crumbling around us and we’re the last line. Why shouldn’t we have reasonable  pay instead of worrying about the rent and food bills all the time?”

Unite member George Dusher said, “It’s carnage at the moment—the worst I’ve ever seen it. People are ringing for an ambulance and are then stuck waiting on the floor for ten hours because we can’t get to them. We’re not getting to cardiac arrests quickly enough because of delays.

“I used to see up to ten patients during a shift, now it’s just three or four because of the delays in hospital admissions.

“Paramedics get into debt to train for this job, but the pay is too low and the stress is too high. It used to be that you’d leave half an hour after shift. Now it is one, two or even three hours. It’s too much and people are leaving.” 

It means the NHS will see nurses’ strikes by RCN union members on 15 and 20 December and ambulance strikes on 21 December. They are urgently needed. Workers are stressed beyond any safe limit and many are broken and leave.

Figures released on Thursday showed that NHS vacancies in England have reached a new high. There were 133,446 full-time equivalent vacancies across the health service at the end of September, according to new figures from NHS Digital. That’s up from the last set of figures. 

It is the highest number of vacancies ever recorded, and up nearly a third from the figure at the end of September 2021.

It was disappointing that the recent Unison ballot across the NHS workforce saw 81,000 back strikes, but the vast majority fell below the anti-union law thresholds. The nurses’ and ambulance strikes will be a chance for every worker to demand action over NHS pay and staffing.

Because the strikes are in different areas, and with different unions involved, it’s crucial for activists to organise not to cross each other’s picket lines.

And all workers should plan walkouts, delegations and support for their local NHS picket line.

The NHS strikes are one of the reasons Rishi Sunak has created a dedicated unit to co-ordinate the government’s response to workers’ action. He has put Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden in charge of preparing contingency plans to cope with a wave of walkouts, anticipating future ones and overseeing ministers’ approach.

Their side is centralising and organising. So should ours.

Who’s out and where?
  • GMB ambulance members voted for strikes and beat the anti-union thresholds in the following ambulance services: South West, South East Coast, North West England, South Central, North East England, East Midlands, West Midlands,  Welsh Ambulance Service, Yorkshire.
  • Unison members voted for strikes and beat the anti-union thresholds in North West, Yorkshire, London, South West and North East regional ambulance branches.
  • Union leaders in Scotland have paused ambulance strikes while they force workers to go through yet another ballot on an inadequate pay claim. It should have been rejected and strikes scheduled alongside those in the rest of Britain.
  • Strike ballots in the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Midwives close on 12 December. They could join the action in January if the votes are for action.

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