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Unite Pathology dispute update

Hospital Managers have always regarded On-call fees as expensive, but have never been prepared to take the even more expensive approach of employing enough staff to run a proper round-the-clock service. Consequently the old Out-of-Hours (OOH) question gets hauled out every few years for another fruitless run around the block.

However the current attempts to impose austerity on the working class have raised the stakes and the temperature of the confrontation. In Leeds and other areas pathology staff, mainly Unite members, are in dispute over proposed changes to OOH working. These disputes have been reported on before so rather than repeating the complex history let’s look at some of the hot spots of the dispute:

Continuing staff cuts.

|Continuing increase in  workload.

Pathology managers with no experience of pathology making uninformed decisions.

Managers putting cost cutting before patient safety or staff welfare.

Absence of any meaningful conversation between managers and staff at the “coalface”

Failure to apply trusts own  policies on staff involvement and consultation.

Imposition of E-rostering.

Failure of  the 2004 Agenda for Change (A4C) Terms and Conditions National Agreement to take into account the continuing requirement for on-call working and the futility of trying to eliminate overtime against a background of imposed of austerity

The 2011 nationally agreed Transition Guidelines recognise the continuing need for on-call working but still, unsurprisingly, fail to provide workable solutions in the face of austerity.

The immediate problems are threefold:

  1. The proposed rotas in many sections are unsafe for both patients and staffas there are simply not enough staff. (present staffing levels are critically low at present, and in some sections 50% of what would be required)
  2. The proposals take no account of work/life balance.
  3. The proposals  will result in a large loss of pay. Some staff would regard this as an acceptable trade off if enough staff were employed to solve points [1] snd [2] – they would work their 37.5 hours(rather than 45-50) and get some of their weekends back. In other sections members see no reason to change a system that currently works well.

If members succeed in fending off these impositions there will be two wider implications:

The E-rostering system which is standard for most hospital employees, although it pleases nobody except HR departments, will have been kicked into touch for pathology and this will not go unnoticed by other unions.

These disputes are an embarrassment for both the employers and the unions who recommended acceptance of the A4C proposals but  if the members in dispute succeed in defending their position then A4C can only be applied with a large increase of staff numbers. In many sections there is a case for moving to full 24 hour working, but it can’t be done on the cheap.

Apple carts are in danger of being upset.

In the past few months we have have organised a one-day and then a two-day strike. Each produced some movement and a postponement of implementation date, but not nearly enough.

Next steps:

Continue linking up with other Pathology disputes.

The reballot for industrial action in anticipation of Management’s next set of  “Final Proposals” has seen 71 per cent vote in favour of strike action and 88 per cent for action short of a strike. Although the new rotas were introduced on 21 October, the delay in organising the ballot by Unite means staff can’t take action until the 26th!

Despite this, the stakes are so high that workers remain determined to fight. A group of workers who have not hitherto seen themselves as militant class fighters are defending patient safety and their own conditions in direct opposition to the Government’s austerity measures.

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