Unison’s Health Service Group Executive (SGE) on 10 January voted down a miserly offer from NHS Employers.
NHS Employers offered a no compulsory redundancies deal in exchange for a two-year freeze on pay increments, on top of the pay freeze imposed by the government. Initially, Unison officers had described this as a “hard choice” for health workers, but the SGE (a body of elected lay representatives) rejected it.
This is an important victory for several reasons. NHS Employers could not guarantee that local Trusts would abide by the deal. The government has already expressed its committment to destroy the NHS and replace it with a system of private firms competing with autonomous Foundation Trusts. FTs are already free to set their own pay and conditions outside of national agreements. To get around this, the NHS Employers wanted to set up a national framework which could then be negotiated locally. If the union leadership agreed to this then it would have been a huge capitulation.
Bosses would rather avoid compulsory redundancies because they are expensive. Most NHS employers will try to reduce staff levels through “natural wastage”. But understaffing in the health service is already severe. A recent survey by the Nursing Times found that 25% of nurses would take strike action, and 67% action short of a strike, if there were further attacks on staffing levels.
The rejection of this deal means that the union now has to organise for industrial action to save jobs and services. An organising drive around the issue of job security will be an important next step in preparing healthworkers and community activists for the strikes and occupations that will be necessary to save the NHS.