Message of solidarity from Bryn Webster, Chair of UNISON’s National Ambulance Occupational Group
Five weeks ago, I wrote to you in preparation for what was to be our first day of strike action in the five ambulance Trusts where we got a mandate to strike.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how things would go.
I couldn’t have predicted the amazing levels of public support we would receive on the picket lines, with almost every car passing us honking their horn to show solidarity and complete strangers turning up to picket lines with supplies of cakes, soups and water!
But neither could I have predicted how the government would twist and turn the dispute to their advantage, using ambulance staff as an excuse to introduce legislation to take away our democratic right to strike by accusing of us not caring about patients and providing adequate cover during strikes, which is simply untrue.
As we approach our third strike day with just as much uncertainty as to where this dispute will go and still no offer on the table, it’s hard not to think this government want to make us both poor and powerless. But what I am certain about is that you will do everything you possibly can to not to let them!
I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done over the past months. Every single one of you. From those who have stood outside on freezing cold and sometimes wet picket lines, forgoing yet another day’s pay at what will probably be one of the most difficult times for your financially, to those of you who are for the second time this year making your vote count by returning your industrial action ballot papers.
Without your continued support, we wouldn’t be where we are today, which is in a place where it finally feels like people understand the pressures that staff working in the ambulance service are under. I know how proud we all are of the jobs that we do which are some of the most important jobs in our communities, and I feel confident that the public and media recognise this too.
Who knows where this will go but we cannot lose sight of why we’re all doing this. Our end goal is to get you a better pay increase so that you can help to pay your bills. We’re doing this for the survival of the NHS so that much needed staff feel valued and respected and are able to stay working in a job they love and in a role where they are needed.
So again, I ask those who belong to our striking branches to join us in taking action next week, on Monday 23 January and for those of you who won’t be joining us this time around, please, I urge you to return your ballot papers, so you can join our action come early March.
I have no doubt that together, we can do this.
Your chair, Bryn Webster
Providing emergency cover during periods of industrial action
You might have heard the government talking about trade unions not putting sufficient life and limb cover in place during periods of industrial action. This is simply untrue for UNISON. UNISON has worked with all five Trusts where strike action is taking place to negotiate life and limb cover arrangements. This means we will provide cover if someone’s life is at risk. We’ve also got several national escalation processes in place if any issues arise on the day to ensure that patient’s lives are protected.
However, following enquiries to branches we thought we would explain a little about industrial action exemptions, also known as derogations.
The law requires unions to plan and organise industrial action in a way that does not lead to claims of wilfully or maliciously breaking contracts with knowledge of probable consequences of endangering life, limb or property.
So, whilst it is the employers’ responsibility to put in place emergency cover, UNISON sits down with your employer each time we take action to agree minimum cover levels and exemptions locally. This means that workers who are covered by the call to strike, are exempt from completely withdrawing their labour in order to provide life and limb cover.
The aim of our dispute is to put pressure on the government to improve NHS pay and get them to talk to us about the pressures our members are under delivering NHS services to patients.
We continue to receive huge public support for our action so far and we need to keep the public on our side as they too will put pressure on the government to start talks with us that will ultimately end this dispute.
All our members involved in the dispute play an equally important role in reaching our aims and end this industrial action. That is especially true for members who are working under agreed exemptions or derogations and providing life and limb cover from a picket line or in other ways agreed locally between employers and unions.
If emergency cover levels are not maintained there is a risk of legal action against the union which puts our dispute at risk and could mean suspending the strike with everyone having to go back to work. The government are already trying to bring in new laws to prevent ambulance workers from taking strike action, with punishments for those who do not comply.
So, we continue to need your help and where your branch calls upon you to take strike action, they will ask you to work under emergency cover agreements and work from the picket line to provide life and limb cover where needed.
Doing so is a vitally important part of winning this dispute.
Feedback from Industrial Action on 11 January 2023
Last Wednesday, 11 January, Ambulance staff in 5 Ambulance Trusts across England took their second day of industrial action. Scroll to the bottom of this email to see some images from the day.
Show your support
Download graphics – similar to our banner at the top of this email – to post on your social media pages. We also have a leaflet here explaining the NHS pay dispute that you can share.