Threats to Operational Services members

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2013 Health Care Service Group Conference
12 December 2012

UNISON is the principal union for staff within operational services and we need to continue to increase the profile of operational services staff within our organising and campaigning work as these members are the backbone of our union and our NHS.

Conferences acknowledges that operational services members are under attack like never before as the austerity measures are coming into full effect and the coalition government’s plans for the NHS are becoming abundantly clear. The government’s agenda is having an effect on operational services staff and their morale. Continued politically motivated attacks on operational services roles label staff as a “bureaucratic waste” and ignore the vital contribution they make to high quality patient care. These attacks mean that operational services staff are more susceptible to the following:

a) outsourcing;

b) privatisation;

c) redundancies and cuts in staffing levels;

d) zero-hour contracts;

e) reorganisation;

f) down-banding.

Conference believes that the current NHS reorganisation in England will have a huge impact on operational services staff as many are redeployed to new “Receiver” organisations such as Clinical Commissioning Groups and Commissioning Support Services, amongst others. It is not clear what the future will be for these members involved in the largest NHS reorganisation of a generation but UNISON remains concerned about the effects this will have on terms and conditions, contracts and terms of service. We need to organise and recruit in the new NHS structures and ensure we have fit for purpose negotiating and bargaining arrangements and to grow our membership within these groups.

History tells us that operational services members are used as a testing ground when it comes to imposing poorer terms and conditions. For example, the NHS zero contracts were first used on lower skilled workers in the NHS. This is intolerable as this style of contract does not guarantee a worker specific hours of work and they are called to work at short notice. This lack of continuity of work potentially has risk to continuity of care and patient safety.

The situation has been made worse by the government promoting shared business services in which private companies deliver back room services like computerisation. Again this type of privatisation runs the risk of job losses which again affects operational services members.

Conference is concerned about the impact of down-banding on operational services staff as there are reports that some NHS trusts are undertaking mass down-banding of staff to save costs, often under the pretext of skill mix reviews or other service redesign. Conference understands that from time to time service redesign will be appropriate but believes that this should only be driven by quality improvement and not solely a means to reduce pay costs.

Conference therefore calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1)support branches in dealing with organisational changes, financial challenges, cuts and workforce re-profiles;

2)conduct a survey of branches to see how widespread the practice of down-banding is and to feed this information back to conference in 2014;

3)produce campaign and organising resources for branches and regions on the issues that are affecting operational services staff including down-banding and cuts and ensure that these materials include examples and materials for staff who are employed within the operational services occupational group;

4)actively collect and disseminate good practice where branches have been successful in resisting cuts and down-banding;

5)produce guidance for members on zero hour contracts which would include evidence-based information on the risk to continuity of care and patient safety;

6)mount a recruitment and organising campaign, post HR transition, to encourage members in operational services to recruit and organise members in their new environment;

7)organise an operational services seminar which will cover the number of issues that operational services staff are facing including outsourcing, cuts, reorganisation and down-banding;

8)use the Our NHS Our Future campaign to highlight the importance of the operational service staff and the threats that are facing them;

9)continue to campaign against government proposals that will lead to further cuts, privatisation and fragmentation of operational services.