Unite: Still opposing three years of pay cuts

I got back from Unite’s Health Sector Conference today. Conference was a serious and sober event, discussing the scale of the Government’s attacks on the NHS, and how best to resist these. With the Government’s latest plans to hand over the running of ‘failing hospitals’ to big business, it’s never been more important to have NHS unions that stand up for our members. I’ll do a more detailed account of the Conference when I have a little more time.

One thing worth picking up tonight on is the change of role of Kevin Coyne, Unite Head of Health. This was announced at Conference, and in a Reps Direct sent out today. Karen Reay, with a long history of work with community nurses, is to be the new Head of Health. A number of members have asked me why this is happening.

Kevin’s moved back to the job he wanted – Regional Secretary for the North West. I know a fair number of Unite members in the North West aren’t particularly happy about this, as Kevin has a reputation as a right wing officer. Whatever Kevin Coyne’s formal politics, the work he has done around this year’s rotten pay offer has been very principled. His role has been one of explaining to our members why this ‘proposed agreement’ is so appalling, and co-ordinating our Union’s opposition to a likely three years of pay cuts.

Kevin Coyne was moved as part of a large scale reorganisation of Officer roles around the Amicus-TGWU merger. It’s a move that’s been on the cards for a couple of months. Personally I think it’s a shame that our General Secretaries decide these moves without reference to the lay members who should be calling the shots.

Our Health Sector National Committee wasn’t consulted about Kevin’s transfer, and – if we had been – we would almost certainly have opposed it. The middle of an important pay dispute isn’t the best time to move your National Officer!

There is an important point to be made, though. Kevin’s move does not in any way change the principled stance of Unite with regard to the three year pay offer. Our Health Sector National Committee unanimously rejected the proposals back in April. Our wider membership is being balloted just now with a recommendation to reject, and an outcome that is entirely predictable. Our Conference voted – I think unanimously – to reject the three year deal. The motion noted, ‘If there are billions of pounds available to bail out banks, then there is money to pay health workers a fair and equitable increase’.

This Union is opposed to a shoddy deal that seeks to impose pay cuts on health workers. This has been our clear position since the ‘agreement’ was made between the Government, the employers and two organisations on 4th April. This remains our very clear position going forward.

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