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.