Union members have warned they are prepared to go on strike if the government goes ahead with its plans to cut NHS workers’ unsocial hours payments.
At Unison’s annual healthcare conference in Liverpool, members called for a “vigorous” campaign to be launched against plans unveiled earlier this year that could see the payments cut in order to make the NHS a so-called “seven-day service”.
“Our members are angry and anxious about the threat to unsocial hour payments”
The union’s North West regional health committee, which moved the motion at the conference yesterday, accused the government of failing to invest properly in the NHS to cope with increased demand, and of “attacking” staff by suggesting extra pay for unsocial hours is cut.
The committee members urged conference delegates to be clear about why these payments were justified and the health impacts of doing shift work.
“They incentivise work outside normal working hours, compensate for the disruption of people’s normal diet and sleep patterns, compensate for negative health implications and impact on the household, not seeing children on weekends, not having family time,” it stated.
“They also provide much needed extra income in the context of low pay,” said branch members,” it added.
A midwife from Homerton University Hospital Trust in London who supported the motion, said she and her colleagues were prepared to work unsocial hours because it benefited patient care, but that they deserved to be compensated for it.
“We do this because we care, but we also deserve to be cared for and valued for the work we do,” she said. “Antisocial payments are not a bonus or perk of the job, they are fair payment for the work we do.”
Debra Tickle, from the union’s healthcare service group executive team, said if proposals to reduce unsocial hours payments were implemented it would place “serious limits” on the NHS’s ability to deliver the “seven day service”.
She said: “Our members are angry and anxious about the threat to unsocial hour payments.
“We know many are even angrier about this issue than they were during the pay dispute and will take whatever action is necessary to defend the unsocial hours premium,” she said.
The motion to mount a campaign against cuts to existing unsocial hours payments and to ballot members on industrial action if attempts were made to implement the reductions was passed overwhelmingly.
Meanwhile, members also passed a motion to support further campaigns on NHS pay to see wages restored in light of recent pay freezes and increased in the future at least in line with the rate of inflation
Members claimed that NHS pay now lagged further behind other private and public sectors, which meant it was difficult to recruit and retain staff within the health service.
They said this meant trusts were now employing staff in role they did not meet the requirements for, resulting in a “deskilling” of the workforce.
A motion was passed to highlight this growing skills shortage among workers to the government and use it to argue for a “properly funded NHS” .