Paul Moloney is a member of the Unions21 Steering Committee and Industrial Relations Manager for the Society of Radiographers
There has been a lot of criticism of the lack of substance to the policy announcements from the Labour Party during conference week. Important announcements about abolishing the bedroom tax, freezing fuel bills and the promise to repeal the 2012 Health Act should not be underestimated and the impact these will have for working people and the working in and relying on our NHS will be immense.
Nevertheless the policies announced are all details and the lack of an over-riding context for them plays into the hands of those who claim there is really little difference to choose between all three main parties. This of course is further evidenced by Nick Clegg’s apparent indifference to who he will get into bed with, as long as he can get into bed.
So you have to go back to the Andrew Marr interview before the start of the conference to find the most important announcement made by Ed Miliband, and also to find the issue that will win the next election outright for the Labour Party if articulated correctly.
During the interview Ed Miliband referred to the fact that, for the first time in Britain’s post war history the link between economic growth and improving the standard of living of the majority, working people, has now been well and truly broken. Even Thatcher was not able to do this.
Members of my own union, the Society of Radiographers, have not had a pay increase above RPI for 5 years. Even with annual increments their pay has failed to keep up with inflation. In addition more of their disposable income is now spent on pensions so their standard of living has decreased significantly. Pay cuts have also become more common place as highly skilled workers responsible for delivering high levels of patient care find their jobs re-banded downwards.
This is true of other sectors where pay freezes and even cuts have become the norm in both the public and private sectors.
For the last 3 years RPI, however measured, has been higher than average earnings. But it is not the statistics but the message behind the figures that matters. If the statistics say inflation is higher than earnings then that means quite simply that any improvement in the economy is not being translated into improving standards of living for the vast majority. In the past, although the distribution was unequal, there was still an overall improvement when the economy grew. The fact that this has come to an end will be seen by those the Tories represent as the holy grail of politics and the ultimate aim of the Thatcher revolution. To the rest of us it is nothing short of the cynical use of austerity measures for political and ideological means.
So Ed is right to highlight the problem. But to win the election he must do two things. He must ensure his policies ensure the link between economic growth and earnings growth is restored and he must ensure the Tories and their coalition partners are held to account for exploiting the austerity measures in a way that has deliberately broken the link. If he does, and the TUC and individual unions work with him, then victory at the election is not just possible but will be meaningful.
So let’s not have a debate about the links between different sectors of our movement and instead start talking about the link that really matters for working people, the link between economic growth and earnings growth and in so doing expose the deeply ideological approach of this Conservative led coalition.
As we wind down the political theatre that is Westminster and as the MP’s go on their well earned hols (no doubt dreaming of what they will do with their extra cash) we are left to ponder what the autumn will bring.
The spring/ early summer had its fair share of madness and drama (no doubt a result of the high temps) with Labour and the Tories slogging it out in the house over the NHS; Labour slogging it out with the unions and the liberals wondering why they are being left out.
Then we have u turns over ciggies, booze; grandstanding over immigration, the conflict in Syria, the NHS to name but a few.
Some readers may see a common theme developing as I list the key issues. Yep, the NHS has consistently been in the news and on the political agenda for some time; but unfortunately not in a good way.
We have had the Francis report, the Keogh report, the crisis looming in A and E, the future of the 111 service, the problems of health care in Wales and questions by select committees over who is actually responsible for what in the NHS. This is despite the statement from Jeremy Hunt that ‘the buck stops with me.’ [Now this is odd, as I do have a recollection that the new health arrangements were designed to distance the politicians from decision making!]
If you are a visitor from abroad and turned on your telly in your hotel room and heard the news you could be forgiven for praying that you did not get sick during your vacation.
But we all know that there is a gulf between what we hear and see and reality. NHS staff still work tirelessly despite cuts to budgets, increasing workloads and threats to job security. Patients still value the NHS and so do we. And despite the political and journalistic rhetoric we still treat patients and diagnose their illness. Despite what we see in the news and read in the paper and on twitter feeds, we still treat them with respect and we still keep them safe.
It would be nice to see, just once, a story that is used by the media, politicians and others to show the real worth of the NHS and why we should not see this service as a political football but something that is worth keeping and supporting and that any failures are an exception and not the norm.
Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down or dissect its innards to gain column inches or political capital.
Whether we work in the NHS or we work for the NHS we know that it is a service that we cannot afford to lose because once it is gone we will never see it return.
Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors
The Thompsons Solicitors weekly blog
Among the Labour and Crossbench amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which have been tabled to be moved at the House of Lords report stage, which starts next week, is one seeking to protect whistleblowers from victimisation.
It states “that a worker has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act by an employee or agent of his employer, done on the ground that the worker has made a protected disclosure.”
How the government responds to the amendment in the light of the letter sent last week to NHS Trusts by health secretary Jeremy Hunt will be fascinating.
Hunt called on the NHS to “recognise and celebrate” staff who had “the courage and professional integrity to raise concerns over care”. He warned that “gagging” clauses were being used to “frustrate” such whistleblowing.
He is, presumably, aware that the Enterprise Bill, as drafted by the government he is a member of, seeks to restrict whistleblowers’ rights by removing protection for those who blow the whistle about breaches of their own employment contract.
The Bill addresses this so-called “loophole” (as the government describes it) by amending the Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996 so that qualifying disclosures must, in the reasonable belief of the worker, be made “in the public interest”.
So when Hunt asks NHS Trusts to “pay very serious heed to the warning from Mid Staffordshire that a culture which is legalistic and defensive in responding to reasonable challenges and concerns can all too easily permit the persistence of poor and unacceptable care,” would he agree, I wonder, that taking out breach of contract complaints will provide Trusts with greater authority to gag workers?
Why should a breach of a contract of employment be less in the “public interest” than other breaches of the law? What can be more in the “public interest” than a public authority not abiding by the contracts it makes with its workers? The implication is that those who complain about their contracts are “bad” whistleblowers, while the people in North Staffs who were too scared to reveal what was happening (probably because of their duties of confidentiality under their contract) would be crusaders for justice.
It’s not for the government to say what is or isn’t in the public interest anyway – that’s defined in the ERA and for an employment tribunal to decide.
Sure, the decision of Gary Walker, former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, to break a gag to go on the Today programme could be argued to be firmly in the public interest. We do not know all the details of Gary Walker’s case but what is curious about the case as reported is that there was any confidentiality clause at all in his settlement agreement. Section 43J of the ERA means that any provision in any agreement (including a compromise agreement) which purports to preclude a worker making a protected disclosure is void.
Why did Jeremy Hunt not just draw NHS Trusts attention to the existing law as set out in legislation. Or is this just another case of legislation by press release?
It’s ironic that by distinguishing “in the public interest” from other reasons, the government is handing the NHS, and other employers, exactly the kind of “legalistic and defensive” armour that Hunt complains of. Ministers are, as ever, making it up as they go along to make headlines. They should leave well alone.
Another amendment to the Bill, tabled by the government, is intended to implement the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Redfearn v United Kingdom, which involved a bus driver sacked after he became a BNP councillor.
The amendment disapplies the two year qualifying period for unfair dismissal if the dismissal was on the grounds of political opinion or affiliation.
There’s more information about the Redfearn case and the amendment in this week’s Labour and European Law Review bulletin. And I’ll be blogging about it soon.
THE CSP union has said that simple steps could reduce staff absence in the health service, saving millions.
Statistics show a sickness absence rate of 4.02% for NHS staff between April and June this year, which equates to about nine working days a year for a full-time employee.
The Boorman Review, published in 2009, said the NHS could save £555m a year by giving staff rapid access to physiotherapy and other occupational health services. Read More…
THE Independent front page reports Royal College of Nursing figures that show the NHS workforce has fallen by almost 21,000 since the Coalition Government came to power. This includes a loss of more than 6,000 nurses.
Patient safety will be seriously undermined by falling numbers of nurses, with the RCN’s chief executive warning that standards of care “are going to get a lot worse”.
The RCN has recently called for the NHS to take complaints on board to protect standards. Read More…
Captain SKA’s debut release ‘Liar Liar’ achieved chart success, critical acclaim and was featured on BBC’s Newsnight program. His subsequent singles include: What’s the Point of Nick Clegg? and new release ‘U.S Healthcare Explained’
This Saturday I’m very proud to be hosting an Official After-Party for the TUC’s #Oct20 ‘A Future That Works’ demo at Kings College London.
This event is particularly special for me as it brings together acts who have all come to prominence during the coalition era, artists whose work has been shaped by austerity. This is also a very special event as the After-Party has been directly supported by the TUC, who in sponsoring it have made a political music event at a large central London possible.
Scottish doctors will be balloted on further, escalated industrial action over pensions, that could involve a series of days of strike action with emergency cover.
The BMA has announced on its website that its council has agreed that Scotland’s hospital and public health doctors would be balloted in November if the Scottish government did not deliver a genuine alternative to the controversial NHS pension changes being pursued in the rest of the UK.
GPs in Scotland will not be balloted this time.
If doctors decided to strike, the first day of action is planned to take place on December 12, with subsequent strikes scheduled for January 8 and 17.