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UNISON health conference: Fight low pay and privatisation, defend pensions
IN THE final two days of UNISON health conference, the implementation of the Agenda for Change (AfC) agreement was discussed.
At a special conference last year, the leadership persuaded the delegates to recommend to the members to accept AfC negotiations. In the ballot over 70% of the members voted for it.
So a million-plus NHS workers are in the process of being shoe-horned into a new pay scheme which reduces the hundreds of pay grades and scales down to a dozen or so. This is done by comparing the thousands of different jobs to job profiles set at national level.
For thousands of health workers this could mean downgrading and losing out in the pay grades. Even for those who will be "pay protected" for five years it will mean that any pay increases that they would have got under the old system will no longer apply.
Job re-grading has only been 30% achieved but the implementation date of the new pay grades is due in September, backdated to April this year.
Delegates with members whose jobs had been privatised, complained that they were being left out of the whole process. This particularly affects the lowest paid, when the new pay grade of NHS workers starts at over £5.88 per hour. Some of those working for private contractors receive no more than £4.85 (and no London weighting).
So some workers are being downgraded as a result of AfC, whilst thousands of others are missing out because they work for private companies. The many resolutions about this shows the potential for strike action as the September deadline approaches.
Socialist Party member Brian Loader, national staff side secretary of NHS Logistics, spoke on the moves to privatise the stores organisation. Initially 40 companies were interested in taking over but this has fallen to three bidders. It is clear these companies want to make their profits by cutting working conditions.
"All the Department of Health want to do is show a reduction in the workforce. But locally we are doing all we can to fight this privatisation. We are challenging everything the private bidders are proposing but we need a vigorous UNISON campaign against New Labour's privatisation plans and for the rebuilding of the NHS," he said
In the final session on pensions, Phil Green, the national UNISON officer responsible for the health sector, gave the conference a commitment that any move by the government to reduce their pension rights would result in an industrial action ballot.
But as Alan Manley from Dundee and a member of the CWI in Scotland said: "It's time we caught up with the rest of the public-sector unions and plan to take strike action with them. It might be necessary to defend our pensions in isolation but it is better it we do it with all the other millions of public sector workers."
In The Socialist 12 May 2005: