My life at work: frontline workers need more control

Submitted by Matthew on 5 February, 2010 - 11:06 Author: Juliette Chamberlain

Juliette Chamberlain lives in Sheffield and works as a paramedic.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do.

I’m a paramedic. I work on an emergency ambulance, with a crew mate, mostly responding to 999 calls. We work a 24 hour rota on 10 hour shifts. I work in a city so it’s very busy.

Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?

Pay is not the major complaint from workers. Conditions are a bigger issue. Pressure from managers on mobilisation and hospital turn-around times, increased clinical responsibility alongside lack of training, people being messed around over rotas ,and leave and health and safety issues are the main problems. Response times are measured as the government targets for the ambulance service. So how long it takes to get to a patient is all that matters to our managers — not the standard of care the patient gets or what happens to them longer term. It’s led to much closer monitoring of our working day and makes people feel very demoralised when they are trying to provide good support and treatment for patients.

Has the economic crisis affected your workplace/industry in a particular way? Has it affected the way workers think about their jobs?

The reactions of workers to this have been split. Some say we wouldn’t get support for resisting what might be seen as relatively minor terms and conditions changes, when others are losing their jobs. Others are clear that the rich have looked after themselves through this so we shouldn’t pay the price. When the banks crisis was at its height we had good support for a consultative ballot on industrial action. The direct effects of the crisis will come in the next five years. They will be felt first by backroom staff and increases in hospitals contracting to private rather than NHS ambulance services, especially for non 999 work.

What do people talk about in your workplace? How easy is it to “talk politics on the job”?

There’s lots of discussion about workplace and union issues and wider politics in terms of poverty, housing, health. There’s still quite a lot of racism.

What are your bosses like?

Our managers are fairly incompetent, a mixture of time servers and NHS suits who don’t really know anything about the job. Management have moved away from a guise of “partnership working” to openly saying they don’t care what workers think — we should just get on with doing what we are told. They have toughened up on sickness, and individual disciplinaries are rising too. They are preparing for harder times when the cuts fall, and using the atmosphere created by the economic crisis.

Do you enjoy your work?

The best thing about my job is that we are out and about — away from managers. There’s a tight, friendly relationship between crews.

What unions are there in your workplace? Do they do a good job?

Unison is the main union that organises in my workplace. Unite are also recognised. There’s about 60% membership, overall but around 85% of front line emergency staff. There are stewards in most workplaces and the union is very active, though not as good at involving members as I would like.

If you could change one thing about your workplace, what would it be?

There are loads of things that need changing! A big part of our job involves picking up the pieces in situations that could be prevented with better support and less poverty. The health service as a whole should be organised to meet people's actual needs not just act as a sticking plaster. In the first place frontline workers should be given more control over the job.

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