The first meeting of the Unite Health Sector ‘pay strategy subgroup’ took place today – a joint meeting of elected lay members from the Amicus and TGWU Sections of the Union.This was a businesslike meeting, agreeing a strategy to take forward the fight against an imposed below-inflation pay award. With RPI at 4.6% and rising, a three year pay deal of 2.75% (followed by 2.4% and 2.25% in succeeding years) is very clearly inadequate.
The mandate from our members is for a ballot on industrial action. That’s clear, and will be respected. Agreement on this set the context for the meeting. The ballot will take place in September. Publicity material will be agreed by the subgroup.
National Officer Dave Fleming outlined an initial strategy, and this was refined during discussion.
The meeting reviewed the success of last week’s Day of Action – protests of variable size around the country, but overall feedback of positive events reflecting the real anger of our members. Brighton, Taunton, Nuneaton, Nottingham and Colindale were noted as particularly good events. Media coverage of the Day of Action was supportive.
We’ll be following up with postcards, badges, and a ‘Reps Direct’ bulletin to reps as pretty immediate steps. We agreed the need for a steady flow of campaign material – maybe an ‘open letter’ to members, posters, leaflets and so on. We’ll be watching the media, and every rise in inflation or price increase in staple goods will be used by Unite to highlight why we believe a fight on pay is so important.
Early September will see Regional Roadshows for activists – not just in Health, but also for our members in the MoD and local authorities. Pay cuts are an issue for all our members in the public sector. A co-ordinated fight across our public sector membership makes us stronger. The Roadshows will be to build for a solid ‘Yes’ vote in the ballot, and to make this a fight that involves the widest possible layer of activists.
Politically, we’ll be launching an Early Day Motion and a petition on NHS pay. The word is that MPs are saying ‘There’s a deal and we don’t want to rock the boat’ – that’s not good enough.
We agreed that we need to link pay to all the other attacks that health workers are now facing – talking, for example, of the catastrophic cuts in health visitor numbers, and the drive towards privatisation and fragmentation across so much of the NHS. The issues belong together. A membership that is confident enough to fight on pay will be more confident when it comes to defending the NHS – and vice versa.
There’s also the obvious practical job of making sure our membership records are up to date – an essential job for the coming weeks.
Importantly, Unite is also now talking to other public sector unions about the prospects for joint industrial action in the autumn. One of the obvious concerns of recent weeks has been a fear that health workers in Unite will be left isolated in a fight on pay. A joint fight with Unite’s MoD and local authorities members reduces that isolation quite substantially. A joint fight across public sector unions is the best route we have to build a confident, vibrant campaign together with action that can have a real impact.
This was a serious meeting – a meeting for planning and building a fight for fair pay. We discussed tactics, and obviously had slightly varying ideas on how to build – but reached consensus easily. On the overall perspective – to be absolutely resolute in defending our members pay and taking forward this fight – there was impressive unity.