ACAS will host talks between Unite and Yorkshire Ambulance Service management in a dispute over cuts, staff downgrading, patient safety and union de-recognition. The discussions come after a second successful strike by Unite members at the NHS Trust and as a gesture of goodwill further planned industrial action on Saturday 22 June was withdrawn. Difficult negotiations are anticipated but the hope is that a third day of strike action will not be required.
Following a 24-hour walkout in April, dedicated Unite Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) staff were hoping their employer would start by re-recognising Unite and then begin re-negotiating their way out of a financial crisis under which management are seeking over the next five years to make £46 million cuts by replacing the paramedics’ trained support technicians with emergency care assistants with just six weeks’ training. The resulting £300 a month wage cuts will hit many workers hard.
With management refusing to talk to Unite, YAS members were forced to walk out again for 12 hours on June 7. Paramedic Russell Whittaker from Wakefield Ambulance Station admitted he was: “Very disappointed. Only once previously in 31 years have I been on strike but I care passionately about the service and helping people on what is the first stage of their recovery. But the standard of care at emergencies will get worse as people without the same level of skills as in the past are replacing technicians.
Paramedics don’t work in controlled environments and I don’t want to constantly explain myself to a working colleague - who I must stress I am not personally blaming - but I need to concentrate on a patient and not whether my colleague has had the right level of training.
It’s terrible that management can derecognise Unite just for speaking up and representing the concerns of ambulance workers.”
Desperate bosses meantime sought to undermine the strike by allowing staff they had previously sacked - for refusing to attend the scene of an emergency - to be employed by a private ambulance company increasingly being used to attend emergencies and ferry patients to hospitals. The use of private ambulance providers using less qualified staff is up nationally and has increased massively in Yorkshire this year. And yet similar attempts by NHS trusts in the West Midlands and London to replace technicians with emergency care assistants have failed to save money and have been abandoned.
According to Debbie Wilkinson, Unite YAS branch secretary, this “makes it urgent that YAS start to discuss with Unite our alternative money saving proposals. It is good news that talks are to be held in early July.”
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe anticipates, “difficult negotiations ahead. I don’t think we would have got them without taking industrial action, for which we got a considerable amount of public support. We hope to get an agreement, which must include re-recognition, but if we don’t we will ballot for further action.”