Partnership Working Under Pressure

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2012 Health Care Service Group Conference
1 January 2012

Conference notes the acute challenges our members face in the current climate of radical structural reforms (in England), budgetary constraints and efficiency savings targets, all of which are taking a serious toll on the NHS workforce. Employers under pressure to reduce costs are looking at every conceivable way to save money. Increasing numbers are tampering with the Agenda for Change agreement, and seeking to impose new rules for freezing or reducing staff pay. UNISON continues to challenge such practices, both legally and industrially and encourages local trade union sides to engage with employers to discuss, in partnership, alternative ways to manage resources.

Despite these pressures, Conference believes that it remains in our members’ interests to engage in partnership working with governments and employers to seek solutions to challenges and problems. Conference recognises the extra benefits to the union that can be obtained in relation to facility time, influence and sharing of information due to partnership working. We are concerned following Transforming Community Services, future abolition of PCTs and SHAs and the fragmentation of the NHS, that the benefits obtained from these partnership agreements will be lost at all levels (local, regional and national). We believe a priority for the union should be to ensure that mechanisms for partnership working on all workforce issues are developed to fit in with the new structures that will emerge as a consequence of the reforms to ensure the continuance of strong and effective trade unions.

Partnership working puts an onus on both employers and trade unions to engage and consult on all decisions that affect staff. It underpins and facilitates sound and effective employer and trade union relations throughout the NHS. Conference notes that the NHS Staff Council is committed to the principles of partnership working and this is explicit in the Agenda for Change agreement. Partnership structures both in England and in the devolved administrations have a track record of delivering real gains for staff and patients in difficult times. A growing body of evidence-based academic research shows conclusively that high levels of staff engagement in NHS organisations improves the patient experience and healthcare outcomes.

In all four UK countries, partnership working has given trade unions real influence in ensuring that workforce issues are to the fore when developing health policy. Strong leadership has helped embed partnership working at regional and local level, although it is recognised that some NHS employing organisations are still a long way from achieving this. Conference acknowledges that partnership working is most effective where union density is high, industrial relations are robust and where staff feel their voice is being heard. Crucial to this is the provision of adequate facility time so that trade union representatives can engage with the employer and represent their members effectively.

Conference calls upon the SGE to prioritise the following work to:

1) continue to embed partnership working at national, regional and local level;

2) uphold the NHS Constitution (England) and ensure its application during this period of change and into the future;

3) develop human resources frameworks and policies that maximise job security and avoid compulsory redundancies;

4) ensure regions work with Regional SPFs to develop successor Regional Social Partnership arrangements following the abolition of SHAs in England;

5) encourage branches to ensure arrangements are put in place so that local partnership structures are supported to develop sustainable ways of working;

6) defend and extend trade union facility time to undertake partnership working.