Welcome to Union News for Sunday, 5th of March 2023. In this episode:
Government agrees to resume talks on pay, suspending planned strike action by ambulance workers, Greece mourns rail disaster victims and demands safety improvements, Doubts over CWU agreement with Royal Mail and Tens of Thousands of Junior Doctors Plan Massive Strike on March 15 over Pay Dispute with UK Government. Music in this episode is by Tim Bragg.
Government agrees to resume talks on pay, suspending planned strike action by ambulance workers
The UK government has agreed to resume pay talks with ambulance workers, leading to the suspension of the planned strike action. The decision comes after Health Secretary Steve Barclay wrote to unions Unison and GMB, following the workers’ announcement that they would reduce emergency cover during strike days on March 6 and 8. GMB reported that talks will also focus on improving other terms and conditions, and will begin next week. GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison noted the government’s significant shift in attitude towards negotiations on pay, but warned that the strike would return if the talks broke down.
Greece mourns rail disaster victims and demands safety improvements
Greece is still reeling from the worst rail disaster in its history, which killed 57 people, mostly students returning to university after a holiday. Rail workers held a two-day national strike demanding swift answers and a timetable for overdue safety measures. The authorities have arrested and charged with manslaughter the station master closest to the accident, but the Greek public is aware that the disaster was a long time in the making after years of neglect and warnings. The Troika’s demand to privatise the railway in 2013 was supposed to bring modernisation, but the chronic underinvestment prior to privatisation was never reversed in either the rolling stock or the infrastructure.
Doubts over CWU agreement with Royal Mail
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) recently reached an agreement with Royal Mail bosses in an attempt to resolve ongoing disputes over jobs and pay. The agreement, which is the first outcome of talks between union leaders and management, has caused some concern among workers, who feel it could result in attacks on their working conditions.
Under the agreement, union representatives will oversee changes to working conditions that have been implemented by Royal Mail management in recent weeks. Many workers had hoped that such changes, known as “revisions,” would be halted, but instead, the CWU has agreed to continue with them, albeit with union reps’ involvement.
The agreement is designed to help Royal Mail remain profitable, with changes aimed at improving productivity and making workplaces more efficient. However, some workers fear this will mean squeezing more work out of fewer employees.
As for changes that have already been implemented, the agreement only promises to review them to ensure they meet efficiency levels and have been done within an agreed process, rather than reversing them.
The agreement has also left as many as 200 suspended CWU reps and members at the mercy of an “independent” review process. While some workers are concerned that the union has been too accommodating to Royal Mail management. Many believe that strikes are necessary.
And finally, Tens of Thousands of Junior Doctors Plan Massive Strike on March 15 over Pay Dispute with UK Government
Tens of thousands of junior doctors are planning to join the 15th March mass strike. By then they’ll be into their third day of a 72-hour walkout, bringing the NHS to a standstill. Junior doctors, who make up almost all medical staff below the grade of consultant, are crucial to the functioning of the health service. They work gruelling hours on challenging shifts, taking responsibility for the care of numerous patients.
They are responsible for most medical decision-making at night and at weekends.
NHS bosses estimate doctors’ strikes could lead to 125,000 operations needing to be rescheduled, despite there already being a backlog of about 57,000. But after more than a decade of pay cuts, Junior doctors’ patience has snapped. Last month they voted by 98 percent for strikes on a massive 76 percent turnout.
The doctors’ BMA union has spent months trying to persuade ministers to start talks over pay. Just days before the strike was due to start, health secretary Steve Barclay finally agreed to negotiate. But the government’s move was a trick. It soon became clear that the Tories were unprepared to offer junior doctors more money.
As talks ended last Friday, the union accused the health secretary of delaying tactics and said this Monday’s strike would go ahead. Following the collapse of the talks, Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said, “We came here with a mandate, and Steve Barclay turned up without one. There was never any real prospect of any real negotiation or offer—it was just a facade.”
Other unions should take heed of the failed pay talks of junior doctors, as it serves as a warning against being lured into the health secretary’s office. The Tories’ tactic is intended to diminish the momentum of the strikes and weaken their impact. The optimal course of action is to announce more impactful, united action throughout the NHS and beyond, and to decline further discussions until a reasonable offer is presented.