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Health strikes: what emergency cover means

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
As preparations for the 30 November strike step up a gear in the NHS, many health workers are facing questions about levels of emergency cover on the day.
Issue 2279

As preparations for the 30 November strike step up a gear in the NHS, many health workers are facing questions about levels of emergency cover on the day.

“It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide emergency cover, not the union’s,” says nurse and Unison national executive member Karen Reissmann. “That’s the starting point.

“The union says common practice is to recommend a Christmas Day level of cover. That helps to get people’s heads around it.”

Karen points out that lots of health services aren’t open on Christmas Day—but “no one dies because they’re shut”.

“Some people will have their care delayed,” she added. “That’s unfortunate—our dispute is with the government, not them—but no one will be harmed.”

Even workers who would usually work on Christmas Day should be able to strike, if non-striking colleagues can provide the emergency cover.

“Providing emergency cover isn’t scabbing,” says Karen. “It just means that for example doctors who aren’t striking can go on the wards.”

However, where there is a need for union members to provide cover it should be agreed by the union.

“No individual should be having to negotiate over emergency cover—it should be a collective decision,” says Karen.

“If you don’t have a union letter saying you’re exempt to provide emergency cover, the chances are you’re being conned by your manager.

“All staff balloted have the right to strike. It’s not a breach of any code of conduct.”

After discussing the issues, workers in most health workplaces have decided to picket. “Where union organisation is strong many workers will be on the picket lines in their uniforms,” says Karen.

“And people who don’t want to cross those picket lines will be able to join the union on the day.”

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