Union members at York District Hospital have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action, officials announced yesterday. A ballot of members of the Unite union returned a majority of 92.6% in favour of a strike, in a dispute over the implementation of a Limited Liability Company (LLC), a private initiative set to be effectively forced on health workers with effect from the 1st of October. With two days of strike action already announced for the 27th and 28th of September – and the possibility of further action under consideration – an escalating row has erupted over the Trust’s lack of meaningful consultation with both the unions and the public.
York TUC President Leigh Wilks, who writing in the York Press back in March publicly urged the Trust to enter into talks, reiterated who should shoulder the blame in a press release issued earlier today: “The so-called consultation process in this case is a joke. York NHS Trust has some serious questions to answer. Agree to talks now, as we asked you to do six months ago. You are barely meeting the legal definition of meaningful consultation, and for a public service that is not acceptable.” He added: “No union member takes going on strike lightly. But by all accounts York NHS Trust has attempted to frustrate the union reps with a campaign of evasiveness and subterfuge. Refusing to show the business plan for the LLC on the basis that it is “commercially sensitive” does not fool anyone, and your written assurances to staff that roles will remain unaffected are clearly not believed by 96% of Unite members. If you fail to act now, that shows a clear intransigence totally inappropriate to a public service provider.”
Unite shop steward and York TUC delegate Mal Richardson, who with colleague Michelle Hartlett has led the hospital workers’ campaign against the Limited Liability Company, was even more forthright: “If they discipline me, I’ll be on the picket line. If they bully me, I’ll still be on the picket line. And if they sack me, I will come back to haunt them.”
Limited Liability Companies (LLC) have been used by various NHS trusts up and down the country as a means of bringing healthcare workers under the auspices of a private company, while still under the public NHS umbrella. In some areas, they have been forced through with very little opposition; however in others, they have met with fierce union resistance, forcing the health trusts to back down and abandon the policy. Part of the problem with the York Trust’s plans is the appalling lack of transparency and the limitation of meaningful “consultation” to a list of “Q&A’s” issued to staff on a piece of paper. The general public – mostly oblivious to the fact that the plan even exists – have been given even less of an opportunity to voice their concerns. By attempting to rush the plan through as quickly as possible, the Trust’s management have shown a contempt to their staff, their union stewards who are there to represent their interests, and the public who rely on the service and who overwhelmingly oppose further privatisation.
The closure of Bootham Park Hospital, which has left York with little to no mental health provision and resulted in vulnerable patients being shipped off to private providers in Darlington and elsewhere, has shown that – at a minimum – the management of York NHS Trust now deserves business serious scrutiny and that – in the case of this proposed Limited Liability Company – they are doing everything they can to avoid being scrutinised. Their cavalier attitude to consulting their staff, and the union reps who represent them, is characteristic of the behaviour of the very worst multinational corporations; the fact that this behaviour should be displayed by the city’s biggest employer, and the nation’s number one public service, is a devastating reflection of the times – and a savage indictment of the free-market policies of one of the most vicious Governments in living memory. “The ball is now in their court,” says Mr Wilks. “They have had well over six months notice of what could potentially happen if they didn’t listen to the concerns of the staff. Let us hope now that they put this plan on hold – or better still, abandon it. But forcing this through is no longer an option – I hope that at the very least is crystal clear. You will not stream-roller these plans through if we have anything to do with it – and if you do, there will be hell to pay.”
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