By Mark Ladbrooke
Firstly many, many thanks to all the UNISON members who took part in our pay strikes and for those of you who participated in the picket line extra thanks is richly deserved.
Our union would be nothing without the willingness of members to speak out against injustice - across Oxfordshire on each strike day we estimate some 250 union members came along to picket lines and many more stayed away on strike refusing to work for falling levels of real pay. Of course it was a great pleasure to work with colleagues from other unions, striking midwives in the RCM, Radiographers in the SoR and our brothers and sisters in UNITE and the GMB.
There are some misunderstandings around about strikes which need to be cleared up.
Striking workers do NOT need to phone the absence management company FirstCare to give notice of strike action. By law individuals don't have to give notice of strike action but the union has to. We have given notice as required.
Its also important to be clear to managers when we were on strike otherwise we could be accused of claiming pay when we were not at work.
In some cases staff have lost a day's wages for taking 4 hours strike action - our deputy UNISON Convenor, Susan Parkinson, has been taking this up with senior HR managers - they recognise there has been a mistake and emergency payments are going to be made electronically before Christmas - well done Susan!
On a less happy note staff who work regular overtime have lost pay at overtime rates. We have been in contact with UNISON Region about this but have had no response as yet. Those staff suffering hardship need to be aware that the branch has an industrial action hardship fund - please let us know if you are running into serious difficulties.
It is reported that this is the longest period of falling pay in over 100 years - if David Cameron and George Osbourne get re-elected next May or are helped into office by UKIP or the LibDems this crushing austerity will continue and get worse for 5 more years. This will result in falling pay and collapsing public services. Politics is not an optional luxury for us - we will all need to get involved.
The specific issues at the OUH:
The unions, after consultation with staff, have signed off an extension of notice periods - this was because the Trust reported that they were having to pull in agency staff at high cost to cover positions when staff leave. So we agreed this change but asked for a commitment that the Trust would look at improving recruitment and retention by positive incentives - e.g. loans for deposits on housing, recruitment and retention premia (extra pay) and most importantly the Living Wage for outsourced staff on the minimum wage and those on band 1 and band 2. From informal contacts e seem to be making some slow progress in these directions.
Now the Trust is pushing to get their "Linking pay progression and performance policy" signed off.
The broad outlines of this were agreed nationally but its up for local sign off. The Trust does not meet all the national requirements but is pushing strongly. Our concerns are that it introduces a tough financial penalty (a halt in incremental progression at a time of falling pay) which would be on top of any disciplinary sanction (which can now also be triggered by sickness absence). Relatively minor performance issues can block progression as can the failure to give or receive satisfactory appraisals. The Trust no longer negotiates with us on these policies so we have no control over the triggers to block pay progression.
The argument by the Trust that they wish to drive performance by using the policy of halting pay progression is strikingly different from the way they treat Directors - rather than preventing them getting to the full rate for the job they are given very generous bonuses.
Breakdown in policy negotiations
The Trust HR department has stopped negotiating policies with the unions instead consulting with fellow managers and inviting us to comment. Astonishingly some HR managers are claiming this is more democratic!
Of course this tactic runs into difficulty when they attempt to reach a collective agreement where union consent IS required.
We are stepping up our work in this area - our stewards need the skills to recognise the correct bandings for members.
Finally a big, big thank you to everyone who supported our campaigning ancillary stewards team which is putting up such a fight for the 'Living wage'. When Imran was improperly suspended by Carillon management hundreds of you signed our petition and our branch and the Trust Joint Union Committee protested and Andrew Smith MP (Labour, Oxford East) demanded an explanation. Imran's suspension was first lifted with an apology then the trumped up charges against him were dropped - a huge victory for people power!
Now we have to work together and end poverty pay in this Trust.