A Surrey foundation trust is to poll its nurses and other staff on whether they would accept watering down their nationally agreed terms and conditions in exchange for fewer job cuts.
The Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust survey will ask staff to rank a list of possible cuts to their Agenda for Change terms and conditions in order of preference. The list includes reductions to sick pay, annual leave, and enhanced pay for antisocial hours.
The foundation says it will use the survey results to inform future negotiations with staff unions.
Royal Surrey HR director Michael Pantlin said the NHS could not ignore terms and conditions in its drive to make savings. The trust has an £18m saving target in 2011-12, and £10m for each of the following two years.
He said the terms and conditions “were [agreed] in days of plenty and in order to protect jobs and, therefore patient care, this has to be a subject that’s put on the table”.
Mr Pantlin said the results of the survey would be taken back to the union negotiating committees, and he hoped to be able to go to the board “in partnership” with the unions on any recommendations.
But Royal College of Nursing South East operational manager Sarah Dodsworth told Nursing Times the union would ask its members at the trust to reject any change to national terms in the survey, and to refuse to complete the question relating to the ranking of proposals by preference.
She said: “If the trust is able to do this, others will follow and we’ll see the erosion of everything we fought for over years.”
Ms Dodsworth said that if the trust did try to force a change in nationally agreed terms against the wishes of the local staff-side joint negotiating committee it “could as a last resort lead to a ballot for industrial action”.
In April RCN congress backed, by overwhelming majority, a resolution calling for a ballot for industrial action in the event of “any proposal which challenges the nationally agreed pay agreement”