Committed to winning pay justice for caregivers
AFTER years of campaigning, NHS health workers in Greater Manchester are on the brink of an important victory that could benefit thousands of workers across the city.
As per the nationally agreed NHS job evaluation scheme, Band 2 health assistants should only undertake personal care – such as eating, grooming and bathing – but concerns raised by members suggest that a significant number of them regularly undertook clinical tasks – such as observations, blood tests and ECGs – which should be paid at the top level of Band 3.
As a result, some staff are underpaid by several thousand pounds.
Health assistants have come together at Unison North West to demand fair reward and recognition for the clinical tasks they have undertaken.
Hundreds of heated conversations took place between workers, representatives, activists and organizers to complete worker surveys which found that Band 2 health assistants regularly performed tasks above their pay grade.
On this basis, union organizers helped workers band together into organizing committees to develop local campaign plans and winning strategies.
This included detailed workplace mapping, identifying and testing workplace leaders, and developing workplace tables to get workers to become union members and activists.
Workplace meetings have been organized, covering all departments, departments and teams, and collective actions have been launched.
Collective grievances have been signed by hundreds of workers affected by the problem.
This was complemented by solidarity action from colleagues in the NHS – including open letters signed by supervisors and support surveys that illustrated how much support workers were valued – and public actions that included signed petitions by thousands of patients, residents and members of the public.
Sadly, despite increasing pressure from industry and the public, the Greater Manchester Trusts have remained staunchly opposed to solving the problem.
As workers stood ready to step up their campaign further, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, threatening our chances of victory as it significantly restricted our access and ability to physically organize workers.
Although we were able to refocus on remote and digital organization, such as virtual meetings and intensive phone-banking for members, constraints forced us to develop an “aerial” campaign to strengthen the industrial campaign “on the ground” .
Following a power mapping exercise, we focused our attention on local politicians as key influencers.
The process began with small local meetings between frontline health assistants and their local MPs and culminated in a Greater Manchester ‘HCA Summit’ which brought together over 20 workers with MPs and councilors from across the city. .
The resulting action included an open letter signed by seven Greater Manchester MPs and more than 40 advisers urging three key NHS trusts to resolve the long-running pay dispute.
This has been amplified by campaigns in the press and on social media, and by informing MPs to name and humiliate employers in Parliament.
Due to the compressed pressure between the ‘air’ and ‘ground’ campaigns, three of Manchester’s largest trusts – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust – have agreed to negotiations. collective with Unisson.
As a result of these discussions, a Greater Manchester “framework agreement” was reached with the three trusts following a vote of Unison members in each organization, with 99% of members voting to accept it.
The agreement establishes key principles that will ensure the reclassification of nursing assistants and the possibility of a salary arrears of more than three years.
This is a substantial achievement – well ahead of similar deals elsewhere – and will benefit hundreds of NHS workers across the city.
While there is still work to be done to address the issue locally, one trust estimated it plans to increase its number of Band 3 health assistants by over 1,700 at a total cost of over 15. million pounds sterling.
Although the campaign was led by the workers, it was facilitated by significant and dedicated resources from the region and from branches in the Northwest.
The victory should be a welcome boost for health care workers who have outdone themselves during the pandemic, but it is no less than they deserve as a remedy for an unacceptable historical injustice.
Unison warns NHS trusts – we remain committed to expanding our campaign across the region and securing pay justice for every health worker in the North West.
Dan Smith is the Organizing Officer for Unison North West.