Published: 10/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5850 Page 7

Delegates at the Unison health conference have voted to recommend acceptance of the three-year, 10 per cent pay Agenda for Change deal in a move which will allow early implementers to start work.

The conference in Harrogate voted down calls to recommend a straight rejection of the package in a single ballot, but backed a two-stage ballot on the deal.

The conference did not consider any resolution for a straight acceptance of Agenda for Change after a motion proposing acceptance fell 33 to two at a meeting of the Unison health service group executive last month.

The first ballot is due to take place in May and, assuming the 12 early implementers are allowed to begin work, Unison members will be asked to vote again once the work of the early implementing trusts has been analysed, sometime in 2004.

The conference decision will come as a relief to both union leaders and the government.

Nearly 50 speakers contributed to the debate before delegates were prepared to move to the vote.

Particular concerns surfaced over the linking of the 3.225 per cent a year pay deal to the Agenda for Change package of terms and conditions, and controversy centred on whether a letter from Department of Health head of pay Ben Dyson was sufficient guarantee that Agenda for Change could be renegotiated if problems surfaced in the early implementers.

Speaking for the service group executive's resolution on a twostage ballot, Unison health national secretary Paul Marks, the union's lead negotiator, said: 'Agenda for Change does not address all the objectives we set in 1997 and subsequent years, but it is a big step forward. It re-establishes national bargaining for all our members on trust contracts and brings senior managers back to collective bargaining.'

Wales region delegate Chris Jones summed up the decision facing delegates, when he said: 'I am here to move 'the middle way'. If we can't make the decision to accept because of lack of knowledge, we can't make the decision to reject because of lack of knowledge.'

The Transport and General Workers Union has also announced that it has delayed balloting its members on accepting Agenda for Change until the results of piloting the scheme in 12 trusts are known.