One of the largest NHS unions has issued a warning to the next government that it will ballot for strike action if ministers try to cut unsocial hours payments.
At its annual health conference in Liverpool, Unison, which has 300,000 NHS members in England, voted in favour of a motion to ballot for industrial action if any future government tried to reduce the £1.8bn spent on unsocial hours payments.
Both the coalition government and NHS Employers have proposed changing the way staff are paid for working outside normal hours to help make the delivery of a seven day NHS more affordable.
Speaking at the conference today, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said seven day services needed to be looked at but “not on the backs of NHS staff”. He added that Labour would protect unsocial hours pay.
Approximately 45 per cent of staff on the Agenda for Change contract receive some form of unsocial hours payments.
In its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body earlier this year, NHS Employers suggested changes could include extending normal hours to 10pm on Monday-Friday, saving £90m. Extending this to Saturdays could save £290m, while including Sunday would save £770m. Alternatively, it suggested paying only Saturday and evening rates or reducing rates by half and paying them only after 10pm across seven days, saving a total of £1.1bn.
When unions with staff covered by Agenda For Change, including Unison, accepted the government’s new pay offer to end the recent pay dispute it included a commitment to enter talks on future reforms of staff pay, terms and conditions.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “Any move to a seven day NHS must not cost staff a penny. Our members made their views clear [yesterday]. Come after our unsocial hours payments and we will ballot for industrial action.
“As the biggest healthcare union we are always willing to work with employers to improve and extend NHS services if this is based on patients’ needs and is not just another cost cutting exercise. Staff already sacrifice their nights and weekends to care for patients and it’s only right that they are fairly rewarded.”