Health unions to consult ambulance staff over strike action on pay

Ambulance workers in England are to be asked if they would be prepared to take action over pay.

Their three unions – GMB, Unite and UNISON – today (Monday) announced they will be consulting ambulance staff over pay and grading – issues they say should have been dealt with a year ago.

Ambulance staff are frustrated at a lack of progress over promises made by the government and employers at the end of last year’s national NHS pay dispute.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We thought the government and employers were acting in good faith when they promised to look at ambulance pay as a way of ending last year’s strike. But more than a year later, there’s been little progress – mainly because the ambulance trusts have no money to pay staff more, even if they wanted to.

“Resolving the main issue of pay and grading wouldn’t just help reward staff properly but it will also go some way towards solving the huge recruitment and retention crisis facing ambulance trusts.”

Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown said: “Jeremy Hunt’s offer came with no additional funding for the ambulance trusts. This has badly affected the progress of the unions’ negotiations with employers.

“What is happening is inevitable because everyone’s expectations were raised in January 2015 by an offer which has not been supported with the necessary funding by the government.”

GMB national officer for the NHS Rehana Azam said: “GMB and other unions have been left with no alternative but to consult ambulance staff in England with the potential for an industrial action ballot in the near future.

“Professional ambulance staff cannot be expected to keep picking up the slack for government incompetence on promises to invest, promises they have failed to deliver on.”

Each of the unions will now be consulting ambulance staff on how to resolve issues on pay.

Notes to editors:
· UNISON is holding its annual health conference in Brighton from today until Wednesday (27 April). Pictures of Dave Prentis launching UNISON’s consultation exercise on Brighton beach earlier today are available from UNISON’s press office.
· Jeremy Hunt promised in January 2015 to look at recruitment and retention issues over ambulance staff pay. Trusts are having to recruit worldwide because of an exodus of ambulance staff.
· Issues he said would be considered include:
A supplement for existing (band 5) paramedics as an incentive to encourage them not to leave the service. The NHS Pay Review Body recommended this should be decided by individual trusts, not nationally. Progress is slow and trusts would struggle to implement this without government funding.
· A review of pay bands. The last time pay was looked at was 13 years ago. Since then staff have greater skills and responsibilities and the unions believe the NHS is getting 2016 skills on 2004 pay rates. Talks are happening but progress is slow, and ambulance workers are increasingly frustrated.
· Retirement age. Ambulance staff are employed by the NHS so are not exempt – unlike the police, the fire service or the army – from the national retirement age, which is set to rise to 67 in 2026. Unions are campaigning for ambulance staff to be able to retire at 60 in line with other emergency services. Jeremy Hunt promised to convene a group to review this but nothing has happened to date.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen (UNISON) M: 07778 158175 E:
Shaun Noble (Unite) T: 0203 371 2060 M: 07768 693940
Andrew Craven (GMB) T: 020 7391 6700 M: 07739 182691