'Insult to our members'

Unite slams government talks with unions as Unite ambulance members prepare to strike on January 23

Reading time: 4 min

Unite has slammed the latest government talks with unions held on Monday (January 9) as ‘an insult’ to members.

Speaking just after talks with health secretary Steven Barclay on Monday afternoon, Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab told reporters that talks had “not [gone] well”.

He added, “Unfortunately, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right. We came here in good faith. What they want to talk about is productivity.

“Our members are working 18-hour shifts. How you become more productive with that I do not know,” he noted.

Kasab said as things stood, planned strike action by Unite members in the ambulance service would go ahead — the strike is due to take place on January 23.  

Over 2,600 ambulance workers in the West Midlands, North West, North East, East Midlands and Wales will take the day of strike action in the increasingly bitter dispute over pay.

The strike marks an escalation as more workers join the dispute, which saw an initial day of industrial action on December 21 last year.

Amid the latest figures which reveal that ambulance handover rates in England have reached record levels, with one in four waiting for over an hour to discharge patients to A&E, Unite says that its ambulance workers are striking as a last resort.

Commenting on Friday (January 6) ahead of today’s talks, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Unite’s ambulance workers have been left with no option but to take industrial action. They are fighting to protect patients, to save the ambulance service and the NHS itself, as well as providing for their families.

“The government has had months to intervene and end this dispute but has failed to do so. They choose to attack NHS workers rather than get more money for the NHS from profiteering companies. They repeatedly refuse to sit down and negotiate to resolve the dispute.”

It was widely reported today (January 9) that the government may offer NHS workers a one-off payment. When asked if the idea was mooted during talks today, Kasab said the union was told that ‘productivity savings’ would be needed to justify the payment.

“That is absolutely ludicrous,” Kasab told reporters. “This isn’t a factory we’re talking about.

“We are talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done, because they can’t hand patients over because they care so much.

“So for the government to be talking about productivity in return for a [payment] is an insult to every single one of our members,” he added.

The pay crisis in the NHS is becoming so severe that an ever-growing number of NHS Trusts are running food banks, or undertaking other measures such as free breakfasts or providing soup, to help ensure the welfare of staff.

In line with the previous industrial action, Unite’s representatives will be working at a local level to agree derogations to ensure that emergency cover is in place during the strike.

The industrial action on January 23 will be for 24 hours from just after midnight until 11.59pm in Wales, North West, North East and East Midlands. The West Midlands strike will be for 12 hours from 6am to 6pm.

Unite members employed by the Welsh ambulance service will also be taking an initial day of industrial action on Thursday 19 January.

Unite is currently re-balloting three ambulance trusts where members overwhelmingly voted for industrial action before Christmas, but didn’t quite meet the required thresholds, which are imposed by the government’s anti-strike legislation.

By UniteLive team