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Agenda for Change ballot masks discontent
THE NATIONAL leadership of public-sector union, UNISON can gain no satisfaction from the Agenda for Change (AfC) national ballot result. Although there was a three to one margin in favour, only 26% of Unison Health members voted to accept the implementation of AFC.
Brian Loader, NHSLA UNISON Steward (Personal Capacity)
The AMICUS union's AfC ballot, which had a higher turnout of members of 41.8%, saw a much closer result of 56.7% to 43.3% in favour of AfC. This reflected more accurately the unease amongst many union members about Agenda for Change.
These results were not unexpected, with recommendations to accept in both unions, but it still leaves a significant number of NHS staff unhappy with AfC. This is likely to grow over the coming months as AFC is rolled out across the NHS.
There is no doubt that UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis classes the AfC vote as a triumph on pay negotiations, which he believes will eradicate low pay in the NHS with the lowest paid being on £5.69 per hour. But this is far less than the £6.50 UNISON is now calling for as a national minimum wage.
And, the Department of Health (DoH) and trade union leaders have only reached their figure of 8% requiring pay protection (still 70,000 - 80,000 NHS staff) through the uncoupling of the Unsocial Hours payments from the ballot. These payments are to be renegotiated by April 2006 and there is no guarantee of any improvement from the DoH to overcome the problems faced by night and weekend staff.
UNISON's leadership also admit that out of the 8% with payment protection, only 3% will still have their pay protected after the first year and many of these will be middle/senior managers positions in the NHS.
Many Unison Stewards/AfC activists will be relieved by UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis saying they will get paid-time off to implement AfC.
However, many AfC Stewards/activists still have to perform their normal day-to-day tasks without any back-up being provided, as well as being involved in Job Matching/Evaluation and Knowledge Skills & Framework.
The government has pledged an additional £30 million to cover the implementation. But whether any of this filters down to the shop stewards and AfC Activists who will be fully seconded on the implementation is unclear.
One clear warning from the 12 Early Implementers Sites was the amount of work and time needed to complete job matching and evaluations.
In my workplace, one UNISON member has resigned after over 40 years' trade union membership because in his experience this was the first time national trade union negotiators have increased his workload.
In The Socialist 20 November 2004:
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