Many other groups of public sector workers are in a similar position to the fire fighters. They have suffered years of very low pay increases. Their unions are beginning to fight for pay increases and pay deals which will enable them to "catch up". Solidarity will look at different areas of the public sector in each issue to analyse the potential contours of a public sector fight back on pay. Bringing forward the disputes on pay will help maximise solidarity with the fire fighters. This issue: the health service.
- Unequal pay in the NHS
- Action in the ambulance service
- Glasgow hospital workers still defiant
Unequal pay in the NHS
By Kate Ahrens
Nurses and other health workers have been used throughout the fire dispute to compare unfavourably with firefighters' current pay. True: health workers are desperately underpaid.
UNISON has just successfully pushed through equal pay claims in Carlisle which provide further evidence about the gross inequities in pay in the health service. As a predominantly female profession, and one that suffers more than most from misty-eyed "vocation"-ism, nursing has been undervalued and under-resourced for well over a century.
For unqualified nursing staff - nursing auxiliaries and Health Care assistants - wages start at merely £9,735. Even the longest serving "A" grade health care assistant can only reach £12,220 after completing an NVQ.
This is far from evidence that firefighters are undeserving but rather it is very clear evidence that health workers are desperately underpaid.
Regrading claims will be a point of conflict when the Government's Agenda For Change finally comes though.
Not all workers in the health service suffer such poor pay rewards. This government has created new positions at the top of the nursing grades for nurse consultants, with a pay scale from £33,000 to £46,000.
Only a few weeks before the start of the firefighters' strike, consultants were offered a new pay package by the Department of Health that amounted to an increase of something in the order of 20%, putting them on a salary scale from £63,000 up to £85,250, for a working week two hours shorter than that of firefighters.
The group in the health service most comparable to firefighters, paramedics, have long argued that they are grossly underpaid. They also know better than most what the consequences of "modernisation" will be. They are currently living with an ambulance service cut to the bone.
Ambulance stations across the country are being sold off, with ambulance crews forced to spend their shifts sitting in lay-bys and on roundabouts waiting for call-outs from centralised control rooms.
Response times for ambulances are not as good as the fire service, because of a massive reduction in staff and ambulances that has taken place over the last twenty years.
The Bain report represents even more of a threat to this already beleaguered service, with suggestions that the fire service operate as "first responder" an obvious excuse for further attempts to cut ambulance services.
Action in the ambulance service
West Yorkshire: have just called off their industrial action which involved an overtime ban and "work to rule" type action, interfering with management data collection. They have been given better hours and conditions.
Lincolnshire: after a two week overtime ban, the emergency side of the service got a ll.6% rise and other workers got 17.2%. This deal is staged.
South Yorkshire: Unison are balloting for industrial action short of strike action for a pay rise of 5%, an extra payment for paramedics, and payments for unsocial hours.
Glasgow hospital workers still defiant
Over 300 clerical and administrative staff still on strike in North Glasgow have condemned an agreement on low pay made by the union nationally as betraying their regrading claim. They believe the unions have signed up to a "no strike" clause.
They say that North Glasgow NHS Trust was on the verge of settling the unofficial strike over regrading when the national union stepped in.
Carolyn Leckie, north Glasgow Unison branch secretary and SSP member, said: "Organisation and action have been shown to be successful. This deal is about defeating that organisation. The employers will have won a major victory with the only too willing help of certain officers in Unison."
"[Some] clauses are effectively a no-strike agreement. These proposals are in direct opposition to current (Unison) health conference policy ... There is an attempt to railroad this through and the consequences for all of our members could be disastrous."