UNISON to ballot members at East of England Ambulance Trust over industrial action

UNISON has today (Monday) informed the East of England Ambulance Service that it is to ballot frontline ambulance staff over possible strike action concerning managers’ failure to tackle the problem of excessive working hours and lack of sufficient breaks.

In December 2015, 2,995 shifts finished over an hour later than planned, and in January 2016 this rose to 3,639 shifts.

Shifts are meant to be no longer than 12 hours in length but regularly over run so that staff can find themselves working 13-18 hour days or nights. Earlier this year one crew was forced to work a 20.5 hour shift.

To make matters worse, says UNISON, while frontline staff are entitled to a 45-minute meal break during their shift, they regularly only end up with 30 minutes.

UNISON branch secretary Fraer Stevenson said: “After a year of broken promises, our crews are still faced with unacceptable working conditions.

“Frontline staff are caring people, committed to providing excellent patient care but they’re human beings too and they need to be cared for by their employer.

“Fifteen hour shifts with just a half hour unpaid break are now commonplace. Ambulance staff carry out life saving work in their communities and deserve better treatment.

“Theirs is already a stressful job, being made almost unbearable by the excessive working hours staff regularly find themselves working. No wonder so many have already left the service, and that many more say they want to quit.

“It’s heart breaking to see front line staff working under such pressure and for the trust’s board to be given repeated evidence of this – but fail to act. We have little choice now after over a year of many meetings and no meaningful action, than to consider industrial action.

“Frontline staff are held in high regard by the public, it’s hard to understand why the ambulance trust is not showing the same level of care and support to its staff. But it’s not too late for the trust to act. It’s vital that safeguarding measures are put in place to better protect staff from these overwhelming pressures.”

UNISON carried out an indicative ballot earlier this year and following six weeks of further negotiations, which have not resulted in any meaningful agreement with the ambulance trust, UNISON is now to carry out a full ballot of frontline staff.

UNISON is asking for a 45-minute meal break, a 20-minute additional break later in the shift, and for crews to be able to return to base at the end of their shift and only be asked to attend the highest category of calls while en route.

Notes to editors:

  1. Stress and mental health is the number one reason for sickness in the East of England Ambulance Service.
  2. UNISON surveyed 1,541 staff and late finishes were identified as the top concern when it came to stress and well-being of staff. Shift over runs were also cited as the main reason staff were considering leaving. Since UNISON’s survey in 2015, 355 frontline employees have left, meaning even greater pressures on the staff who remain.
  3. UNISON has also approached ACAS for assistance and will continue to seek a resolution to the dispute.
  4. UNISON interviewed staff talking openly about fatigue and late finishes last year: https://vimeo.com/148792759

Media contacts:
Fraer Stevenson 07900 808563
Tim Roberts 07432 150523
Liz Chinchen 0207 121 5466 or 07778 158175