Proposed Action By Paramedics Strike Looms Large

Union officials representing ambulance staff are pressing ahead with plans for a strike this autumn. The intended walk out by front line staff comes after discussions about sick pay broke down again.

Bosses from the ambulance service from around the country have been locked in talks the unions for several months, with little progress being made by either side. The key problem is with changes to pay and conditions that has seen reductions in the amount of hours of sick pay for paramedics. The changes also affects control room staff, technicians and emergency care assistants that work unsocial hours.

Staff in these positions are eligible for an overtime allowance. This entitles them to an extra 25% on top the basic rate of pay if they work night-time or weekend shifts. Until the changes these workers received the same payment for unsocial hours even if they called in sick.

Officials from the unions were outraged when the announcement came in August that unsocial hours payments on sick pay were to going to come to an end on September 1st.

The changes impacts on a total of 35,000 ambulance workers in England. A ballot of Union members to decide on the potential strike action is due to take place next month. If it goes ahead the action will involve workers in the front-line and will have a nationwide impact on the service. It is anticipated that a skeleton staff will remain in place to deal with the most serious accidents.

GMB Regional organiser Tony Hughes, explained that the indicators a strike would happen were highly likely. He stated that the union had held a consultative ballot in the East of England and 67% of members replied. Of those who voted an overwhelming majority of 95% had come out in favour of strike action. He added that a formal ballot of members would probably go ahead in October.

Mr Hughes went on to say, “It compounds with the other stuff that has been happening over the years at the East of England Ambulance Service with shift changes and not having enough staff on the roads doing the job and working longer.” He underlined the problems that were faced by many members of the service if the changes were kept in place, “A lot of ambulance staff are emergency care assistants that are on £14,000 a year and it is not a lot of money and a cut in sick pay is a huge amount to lose.”

Tim Roberts, a representative from Unison, explained the difficult position that the unions faced, “There is no need for any industrial action while we are negotiating. However, employers are walking away from talks and we have no choice but to consider industrial action.” He outlined the significance of the pay issue, stating, “Ambulance staff do difficult and dangerous jobs and that is why the sickness pay is so important because of the amount of work related injuries.” He concluded by saying, “Our members do not want to go on strike and is very much a last resort.”

Due to the significance of the job that they do an ambulance strike is a reasonably rare occurrence in the UK. If it does happen anyone that sustains a minor personal injury during the strike will need to make their own way to seek medical help.