One of our BVU representatives attended the Unite Health Industrial Action and Professional Concerns webinar. The webinar has been summarized for our members who wish to learn more about industrial action – what it means, what is needed, how to do it, and answers to some common questions.
Today, there is an appetite for industrial action within the NHS. Industrial action in the NHS is about having patient care at the heart of decision-making and fighting for changes that will improve patient safety and staff health. There is public support for NHS workers – the majority feel NHS workers deserve a pay rise and that action is justified if the pay rise is below inflation.
Industrial action is not personal or against individual managers. It is about improving pay, workplace conditions, workplace resources, health and safety, staff recruitment and retention.
For this method of action to be taken, the workplace must have union recognition. Union recognition allows the union to negotiate with the employer on pay, holiday, and working conditions.
Industrial action can be in the form of
- strike action
- action short of a strike, such as work to rule action
Strike action means members are on the picket line and are not paid for this time. Unite has a Strike fund which can pay members on strike upto £70/day to help mitigate losses.
Work to rule means workers adhere strictly to the minimum required contractual obligations. They take their lawful breaks, leave work on time and continue to be paid.
Before industrial action can take place in workplaces with union recognition, certain thresholds need to be met. Under the Trade Union Act 2016, at least 50% of the trade union members entitled to vote must do so in industrial action ballots. The ballot must be a paper postal vote for industrial action to be valid. This is difficult to reach, especially in professions where there are multiple unions representing workers.
Can a member be disciplined for taking part in industrial action?
If the action is lawful, then workers have a right to take part and cannot face disciplinary action. If management try to take action against a member for taking part in industrial action the union advises the member to contact their regional officer immediately.
Can a member be struck off the register for taking part in industrial action?
Regulators have a requirement to inform members what is required from them if taking part in industrial action. Workers must ensure they adhere to their code of conduct during strike action. Workers will not be struck off for lawful industrial action and if they abide by the process.
Can members post about industrial action on social media?
Social media can be beneficial to share information widely and rapidly, beneficial to engage with reps and colleagues. Members can post regarding the strike action but must avoid posting information which may breach data protection or revealing information about management, etc. The union advises members to follow their regulator’s guidance on social media use.
Does the manager need to be informed if the member plans to take part in industrial action?
Management does not need to be informed if member plans to take part in strike action. However, if member feels their relationship with management is such that they want to inform them, then that is up to them.
What is expected of members during strike action?
Members are expected not to attend work, and to attend peaceful demonstrations or provide support for their colleagues at the picket line.
What about the proposed Strike (Minimum Service Levels) Bill?
The proposed bill will require workers in sectors such as health, education, fire and rescue, and border security to maintain a skeleton service even on strike days. Staff who refuse to do so could risk losing their jobs. It still needs to be determined how this will be maintained.
Currently in the NHS, prior to strike action, managers, reps and members meet to discuss what emergency care and urgent therapy must continue to be provided during the strike. Because of this, some members may need to work even if they have voted for strike action. In this case, the member must only do the agreed role, and not be expected to cover for other work because members are out on strike. Members on strike must not be asked to catch up work or shifts afterwards.
How to support colleagues taking part in strike action?
- distribution of leaflets/pamphlets about the strike action
- supporting colleagues on the picket line, tea and biscuits, encouragement
- monetary donation to the branch to pay for required resources or to support members
How will the union contact members regarding industrial action?
The union will use the membership database information to contact members. Members must ensure their contact detail are up to date so that they are aware of developments around industrial action.
How this applies to the BVU & its members?
The BVU sits within Unite’s Health sector but as of right now, our industry is unable to take industrial action due to the numbers (whilst ever growing) aren’t there yet to garner union recognition within workplaces. This can all change by people joining us & spreading the word. Once we have achieved this, we will be in a much better position to affect change in the industry on a wider scale.