Unite and Unison, who recently held indicative ballots of their members showing a majority of over 77% in favour of industrial action including strike action, are now in official dispute with York NHS Trust. This follows the Trust’s plans to set up a Limited Liability Company to outsource jobs to the private sector (as reported by York TUC in the York Press, 13th March 2018) without meaningful consultation with either union’s officials or their members. A ballot for industrial action is being held among members this week and, considering the result of the indicative ballot, it seems likely that members may vote for some form of industrial action.
Two months ago, the Trust sent out letters to all staff claiming that the move to set up a Limited Liability Company was essential for the Trust to be able to maintain its financial commitments, while simultaneously claiming that – for the majority of staff – terms and conditions of employment would remain unaffected. However, they have been unable to offer any guarantees regarding pensions and security of employment, have refused to show either union a copy of their business plan relating to the setting up of the LLC, and refused to enter into any meaningful consultation where staff and union members can address their concerns about this concerning development.
From the beginning, York NHS Trust have employed tactics of duplicity and subterfuge; initially denying there were any such plans to set up an LLC, before being forced to admit that they were “under consideration”. Behaving with all the scruples of the most devious private employer, the Trust on the one hand claims that employee roles will be unaffected, but on the other, refuses to consult properly with the two unions representing the workforce. And despite initially agreeing to talks, their inability to offer any assurances with regard to pensions and job role terms and conditions, their previous “assurances” that roles will be unaffected are not worth the paper they are written on.
This is unacceptable behaviour for an NHS Trust. In our statement issued in March we pointed out the foolishness of considering such a plan – the collapse of Carrillion was in the news at the time and amply illustrated the dangers of public services being outsourced to a third party company – limited liability or not. Just last month, the Government had to take back control of HMP Birmingham following the singular failure of G4S to run it as a proper public service. How many more examples do we need to show that the involvement of private initiatives in public services do not benefit the user or the taxpayer? York NHS Trust’s assurances ring hollow when we look at other areas across the region who have implemented similar initiatives which have led to increased privatisation of the service.
York TUC is involved – along with the individual unions – in the NHS Steering Group set up to coordinate opposition to this plan, and we hope that delegates and individual union members will become involved in this campaign. The closure of Bootham Park, which was a devastating blow to mental health services in the city, was a blow to the Trust’s prestige and showed their total lack of competence when faced with difficult decisions; a situation now exacerbated by this. We urge York NHS Trust to agree to urgent talks with both unions before the situation deteriorates any further, and to engage in proper consultation as befits the city’s largest and most important employer. Union members do not relish the idea of any kind of industrial action – especially within such a vital public service. However, their patience has understandably been pushed to the limit by the duplicitous behaviour of the Trust and their attitude towards Unite and Unison, who they appear to regard as nothing more than an annoyance.
It is time for York NHS Trust to behave like a proper public service and not an unscrupulous private sector employer. Their attitude towards their hard-working staff and union members is not acceptable and should this situation result in industrial action, it will be as a direct result of their intransigence, incompetence and inability to engage in proper meaningful talks. If this situation deteriorates any further, we will ensure that the general public are made aware of who is at fault, and that the blame lies squarely at the door of the management of York NHS Trust.