Eighteen months since first taking strike action and Unite members Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) are refusing to be intimidated by management in a battle over patient safety, union de-recognition and pay and conditions.
YAS are making cuts of £46m over five years. Facing £300 a month pay cuts, trained support technicians who work with paramedics are being replaced with emergency care assistants (ECA) with just six weeks training. With patient care seriously compromised, Unite members took strike action in April 2013.
Management reacted by re-employing previously fired employees, permitting the use of private ambulances with less qualified staff and de-recognising Unite despite the union putting forward a well-researched alternative financial plan.
As predicted, working conditions and patient safety, which go hand-in-hand, have deteriorated since last year. Paramedics and technicians are regularly working in excess of 13-hour shifts without even having time for a meal break.
“We are all exhausted. Last month I missed 20 meal breaks. Frequently I finish work an hour later than scheduled. Working with unqualified staff makes your job more difficult as you are not only working with the patient but their relatives in some very stressful situations,” explained paramedic Debbie Wilkinson, Unite YAS branch secretary.
No-one is blaming the ECAs for the current situation. Technician Les Muir, Unite rep at Willerby ambulance depot, is concerned that “Eighteen year olds with no life experience are facing some horrendous situations that may later come back to haunt them.
“The fact they are being employed on emergencies – increasingly on their own without a lead technician – is scary.”
With management having refused to engage in positive talks, YAS Unite members have continued their battle to maintain a top quality service by taking regular days of action over the last 18 months.
The latest was two six-hour walkouts on August 29 and September 2. Prior to the action staff were told they would be banned from overtime shifts if they participated and also have had double-time payments withheld from work already completed.
“They are trying to intimidate people,” said clinical supervisor Martin Dobson, the Unite rep at the Wakefield ambulance depot.
“And if they keep their promise it will make it doubly difficult for the trust to meet the eight minute response time for the most serious, life threatening calls especially as much of the service now depends on overtime work.”
Over 30 per cent of seriously ill and injured people are currently failing to obtain 999 help within eight minutes across Yorkshire.
Despite the threats, a large majority of YAS Unite members were on strike on September 2, joining the battle to preserve an essential top quality service.
“You have to stand up for what you know is right,” said Debbie Wilkinson. “Management should admit their proposed redesign of the ambulance service has failed and come back round the table and negotiate properly.”