Adrian O’Malley, Unison health service group executive member (personal capacity)
Staff shortages, sickness levels and burnout. These are the issues facing workers in our hospital trust. Issues that were there before the pandemic have only been made worse.
People are leaving left, right and centre – with older workers taking their pension early to escape the stress.
More and more private sector companies are coming in to cherry-pick services and make a fortune. There is massive profiteering going on, exploiting staff shortages. Workers are leaving the NHS to work for agencies for more money and less hassle.
It feels like it is a deliberate policy of the Tories to grind down the NHS workforce. They have overseen huge vacancies, and not trained enough staff. A student nurse now qualifies with £60,000 worth of debt.
At our trust they can only staff 16 out of 25 theatres. A private company, Pioneer, has been brought in to assist tackling the growing waiting lists – set to reach six million nationally in the new year. Private companies, looking to maximise profits, typically opt for simpler, cheaper operations leaving the unprofitable ones for the NHS. The pandemic has been used by the Tories to transfer billions of pounds from the NHS budget to the profits of the privateers.
With inflation heading towards 6%, the Tories paltry 3% NHS pay offer for 2021 is already a pay cut – not the way to retain staff, or attract new joiners. Members of health unions – Unison, GMB, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unite – have already voted to reject the offer.
Socialist Party members, including those of us on the Unison health service group executive, have argued that all the unions should have moved straight to an industrial action ballot, and worked together to coordinate action across the health service unions. Unfortunately, the union leaders have lost momentum by carrying out, in Unison’s case, two indicative ballots.
RCN similarly carried out an indicative ballot. But the mood of health workers was reflected in the votes for action. 77% in Unison for ‘sustained industrial action’, and in the RCN, which historically has opposed strikes, the vote for ‘action short of a strike’ was over 90% and up to 56% for strike action.
We don’t agree with the right-wing trade union leaders that strike ballots shouldn’t be called because the Tories’ undemocratic 50% turnout threshold wasn’t reached in the indicative ballots. Actually, with Unison balloting in local government, if a strike ballot is moved to in the NHS, the potential exists for coordinated action across the public sector on pay.
But at the same time, the health unions must prepare now for the 2022 pay offer, which is set to be announced before 1 April by the, allegedly independent, Pay Review Body. The union leaderships have got to say ‘this is what we want, and we want it in our pay packets on 1 April. If there is no sign that it is going to be there, then we start balloting for action.’
Now there is a new left executive in Unison, its priority should be to unite all public sector pay campaigns. We should unite like we did around pensions in 2011, to fight for the pay rise we need and deserve.