NHS bosses in North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are due to sack all 5,500 staff and re-employ them on inferior terms and conditions which is a move away from the national agreement Agenda for Change (AFC). The Trust runs University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton and the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
It aims to remove enhanced sick pay from those staff entitled to be paid the normal shift rate when on sick leave. This is part of the national terms and conditions and signals a move away from AFC by the employers that could see the introduction of regional pay and further attacks on terms and conditions. This proposal is part of a package to make savings of £40 million over three years. Previous plans by the Trust included regular car boot sales in the hospital car parks.
Managers have called this a consultation exercise yet plan to sack staff; and those who refuse the new terms will have them imposed upon them without any form of negotiation or consultation. The Trust is hoping to close the two main sites and develop a single centre. Previous plans under PFI have failed and it now looks like NHS staff are being penalised in order to fund new developments.
Nationally AFC is under attack and the employers want to negotiate a range of cuts to terms and conditions attacking holiday entitlement, sick pay, shift allowances and pay progression in return for so called guarantees and no further cuts in the future.
Alarmingly, there have been signs in the early stages from the unions that they would be prepared to negotiate and that the unions should enter into a form of concession bargaining. This has been met with understandable opposition from union branches and members with the call that this agreement should be defended and unions should refuse to negotiate any erosion of pay and conditions. So far the unions have not made a clear statement saying they will refuse to negotiate and further talks are to take place.
There have also been developments in the South West where employers have set up a pay cartel to try to break up national bargaining and introduce regional pay. And there have been rumours of a pay cartel in the Northern region despite a number of Trusts saying they have no intentions of moving away from AFC.
Unison's head of Health has issued a strong statement attacking this proposal and warns of the potential impact of staff coming into work when unwell and the potential threat to vulnerable patients.
Strong words must be matched with action and a campaign to defeat these moves and defend the national agreement. A local and regional fightback is needed now but unless the unions organise on a national basis and prepare for industrial action there will be similar moves across a range of NHS Trusts as managements try to make workers pay for the crisis in funding and the attacks on the NHS by the Con-Dem coalition government.
John Malcolm, Unison branch secretary (mental health), writing in a personal capacity on the Socialist Party website