Fact and Fiction?

There’s an astonishing document on Unison’s website just now entitled ‘FACT AND FICTION: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PROPOSED MULTI-YEAR AGREEMENT‘. Possibly the capital letters are intended to lend gravitas to a very suspect document!

The document works hard to justify a pay offer (not an ‘agreement’, guys, but an offer that most NHS unions have rejected). It’s also a little hard to guess from reading this that Unison’s lay members, at their Health Conference a few weeks ago, agreed to make no recommendation on the offer.

It’s disappointing that the article is to a significant extent an attack on Unite, my own union. It’s also disappointing to read the statement, ‘If UNISON and RCN members support it, there will be an agreement’. I wouldn’t personally regard this as a particularly helpful approach to joint working.

Since the document is so conspicuously an attack on my own union, and puts such a bizarrely positive spin on a truly disgraceful pay offer, I’ll be working on a detailed response to this when time allows.

For now, though, a few points deserve an immediate response. The claim is made here, ‘FACT: No one knows what the members of Unite want because their Executive chose not to consult them’. Those convincing capital letters again! In fact our Health Sector National Committee – the elected lay reps representing our members in Health – met and discussed the offer at length on 22nd April. I recall the word ‘crap’ being used a couple of times in relation to the pay offer. The unanimous view, of every elected representative, from every occupational group, and from every region, was that the offer was not fit to be put to our members.

How were we able to agree this? Because Unite members have already had a say, and the very miserable proposed offer did not come close to matching our members’ aspirations.

We believe that health workers deserve a pay increase that at least matches inflation. We want a one year deal – a three year deal in a period of economic uncertainty is a mistake of monumental proportions. The ‘re-opener’ clause in the offer doesn’t allow unions to re-open pay negotiations – instead, it leaves us entirely at the mercy of the PRB and the Secretary of State for Health. Not a lot of security there.

What else do Unite members want? A 35 hour week NOW, not some vague pledge to look at working hours when the Government gets around to it.

We’re also opposed to low pay. Unite’s national policy on low pay is for a minimum wage equivalent to the European Decency Threshold (rather than the unimpressive minimum of £6.77 in 2009/10 that this offer would provide).

I would also want to stress that – as a member of our National Executive and our Health Sector National Committee – I have NEVER heard the argument that we don’t care about low pay. I’ve also not met a single Unite member who believes that we should accept pay cuts for health workers on a living wage in order to pay for a deal that provides pay cuts for the lowest paid. This is one of the richest nations in the world. The notion that the UK can’t afford a living wage for its public sector workers is laughable.

Should we have wasted vast amounts of money on a deal that we were not party to, and that met none of our aspirations? Our senior lay reps certainly didn’t think so.

There is a further area here that probably deserves an immediate challenge. The document lists the health membership of national unions, demonstrating that Unison has more members in the NHS than other unions. I wouldn’t have thought it was particularly useful to play the numbers game – maybe how well our unions represent their members is more important. However, the membership reported here for Unite is certainly not accurate. And the claim of 470,000 NHS members in Unison is a really interesting one. Unison’s website, reporting on the pay ballot held in September 2007, notes that 362,954 ballot papers were issued. Unite’s NHS membership is growing steadily – but if Unison has increased its membership by over 100,000 in the last few months, it’s doing a truly extraordinary job!

If this rotten pay offer goes through, the losers are ALL health workers – whatever union we belong to. This is a pay offer that should not be supported.

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5 Responses to Fact and Fiction?

  1. Unite Member says:

    Equally alarming is the inclusion of spine increments to give an illusion of a better offer. Spine increments are part of what we have, not what we are being offered, and represent the employers’ acknowledgment of the value of experience. You can bet that this argument will be quoted back to us in future negotiations.

  2. Martin Wicks says:

    The tone of the document suggests they are rattled. It says much of the UNISON leadership that they attack Unite from the position of a bloc with the RCN, an elitism professional organisation.

  3. solo12002 says:

    And what has UNITE said about this or done about this attack by UNISON! I take it its up to the lay members to do it!

  4. Kate Ahrens says:

    I want to make it absolutely clear that the UNISON Health Service Group Executive played no part in the production of this FACT or FICTION leaflet and several of us have objected to it.
    Apart from the numerous factual errors and the (in my view) biased and unhelpful tone of the whole leaflet, it seems to me to be shooting ourselves in the foot to drive a wedge like this into the united staffside in health. We are in the midst of a huge and concerted attack on the very nature of the NHS from this government, and the shenanigans behind this offer look set to destroy the NHS Together campaign as well as sully future relations on the NHS Staff Council.
    So its not only a poor pay offer, but the potential ruining of our ability to collectively campaign to defend the health service!

  5. Liz McInnes says:

    I too was shocked by the tone of Unison’s FACT or FICTION leaflet and its antagonism towards Unite. This sort of thing could do serious damage to cooperation between unions. Fortunately all the Unison reps I know at branch level disagree with the national view and are making sure that their members are kept informed of the real FACTS about this miserable pay proposal.
    One thing that does concern me is Unison’s claim that they and the RCN could get this through by sheer force of numbers, leaving the other “smaller” unions with no say. I’m wondering if this could actually happen. I’ve spoken to a few reps about this and no-one seems to have a clear idea as to whether this would be a possible outcome.

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