By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2910

Labour wants unions to help it crush pay fights

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting this week gave the clearest signal yet that a Labour government would clamp down on the fight for decent NHS pay
Issue 2910
BMA strike pickets

Junior Doctors on picket lines earlier this year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting this week gave the clearest signal yet that a Labour government would clamp down on the fight for decent NHS pay.

Streeting said he was “beyond furious” with junior doctors’ strikes and demanded that the BMA union call off a planned five-day walkout set for Thursday of next week.

“I’ve called on them to call off the strikes in an election campaign, give change a chance on 4 July, knowing that if there is a Labour government on 5 July, I will be phoning them on day one and asking the department to get talks up and running urgently,” he told Sky News.

The BMA union should not let Streeting hoodwink them with his promises of action to end the dispute. In the same interview, Streeting also said it was “fascinating” to hear a striking junior doctor say the union could retreat from its demand for full pay restoration.

The BMA rightly demands a rise of 35 percent to undo pay erosion during the long Tory years. That’s the only way to deal with the recruitment crisis in the NHS, and it’s the best way of keeping patients safe.

At the start of this week the junior doctors’ union is sticking to its guns, but many other health unions have taken their foot off the pay accelerator. For more than a million health workers the new pay year began back in April but there is no sign of this year’s annual rise.

Instead, the Tories are content to hand the decision to a future Labour government, knowing that a low offer would outrage workers who have endured years of below- inflation rises and rising stress levels.

Demands However, health unions—including the RCN, Unison, Unite and the GMB—have so far not put forward strong demands over pay and long hours because they want to give Labour a soft landing when it returns to office. Streeting is taking the unions’ timidity as a sign of weakness.

He wants to ram through NHS privatisation—and the low pay and insecurity that goes with it. A sign of what privatisation is already doing to the NHS can be seen in cataract treatment.

Nearly 60 percent of operations are now outsourced to private firms, up from 24 percent five years ago. Because the procedure is usually quick and straightforward, the private sector knows it will make huge profits.

But diverting easy and highly profitable work away from the NHS can undermine more complex eye treatments, says Ben Burton of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

The NHS losing staff, expertise and contracts makes it harder to treat conditions such as wet macular degeneration, the most common cause of preventable blindness in Britain. “If you’ve reduced the number of the cataract waiting list considerably, that’s great,” he says.

“But if you’ve got more people going blind from other conditions as a result of that policy, that isn’t desirable.” But Streeting is immune from such warnings.

In pursuit of headlines about more operations being carried out and some waiting lists falling, he’ll gladly sacrifice both the NHS and patients that can’t be treated on the cheap.

Mersey porters demand bonus Tories promised

Hospital porters, cleaners and catering workers on Merseyside struck for 24 hours on Monday of this week in their fight for the Covid bonus.

The GMB union members at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospitals missed out on the lump sum because they were not directly employed by the NHS on 31 March 2023.

Picket lines were a good size outside of the hospital on both mornings of the strike. Many had placards that said, “Went to work, saved lives, denied our lump sum.”

Some workers said that they wouldn’t accept the lump sum unless all the other workers had got it as well. NHS bosses are trying to wash their hands of the dispute, saying it is between the union and their “previous employer”.

Porter Terry Neary told the BBC those affected had performed “exactly the same” roles as their NHS colleagues during the pandemic but had officially been employed by private firm ISS.

“We feel undervalued,” he said. “All together here, we’ve worked right through Covid, seen things we should never have seen (and) at times, no PPE for us

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