UNISON will ballot members working in the NHS for industrial action – including strikes – over the government’s “unfair and deliberately provocative” pay settlement, the union’s health conference in Brighton decided this morning.
Representing around 400,000 health workers, delegates voted to start preparations for a ballot immediately after conference, starting with a day of protest on 5 June, which UNISON hopes all health unions will be able to join.
Conference also called for the union to submit an immediate pay claim calling on employers to top up the pay of health workers who are being paid less than the living wage, and to do so before July this year.
“We are the largest health union, and we take the responsibility that comes with that very seriously,” said UNISON head of health Christina McAnea, moving the successful emergency motion calling for a major campaign on pay.
“Our members do not strike often or easily.
“But this time it feels that we have no choice,” she said.
“So the motion is calling for a ballot – not an indicative ballot, but an industrial action ballot for strike action and action short of strike action.”
And why? “Demand for NHS services is increasing and funding has been cut,” noted Ms McAnea.
“The government wants our members to make up the shortfall by cutting pay and conditions.”
And she pointed out that the union has branches acting as referral agencies and sending health workers to food banks.
As one delgate emotionally pointed out: “How do you you explain to your 12-year-old daugher that you’ve had to go to Wonga to put food on the table? I can’t afford to strike – but I will strike.”
Or as Clare Williams of the Northern region put it: “Who is being asked to live in austerity? It’s not the growing number of millionaires, which includes most of the cabinet. It’s not the bankers and hedge fund owners and venture capitalists. It’s us.”
Conference agreed and backed the call for a strike ballot as part of a campaign to:
- create an effective protest against despicable treatment of health staff in 2014;
- seek a commitment from the Westminster government to reinstate full funding for the NHS;
- commit current and future health ministers in all four governments of the UK to reinstate the value of pay lost since 2010; reinstate UK-wide pay scales and reinstate national bargaining structures and Agenda for Change.
Conference was in no doubt of the task ahead though, even with members are feeling unprecedented anger.
As Eric Roberts of London ambulance and the service group executive noted: “Anger is anger. Action is action.”
Delegates recognised that the ballot – and any industrial action – will have to be just part of a long campaign that needs to win the full support of activists, members and the public, and include co-ordinated action and protests with all other health unions and, where possible, other public-service workers and unions.
“We have to get the message out to members,” concluded Ms McAnea: “Don’t do this just for yourself. Do this for your patients and your service as well.”