A Unison activist calls for coordinated strike action after the union’s members in the NHS reject the government’s ‘final offer’

Today the results of Unison’s NHS workers ballot were announced with 50.4% of respondents voting no to the coalition governments ‘final offer’.

The result is in part a testament to the hard-work put in by health branches and their grass-roots activists who should all be proud of the effort they have put in talking to their colleagues and encouraging them to vote no.

Despite an initial round of negotiations between the government and Unison, the coalition governments ‘final offer’ would still see NHS workers paying considerably more into their pension scheme, working a number of years longer and receiving considerably less from their pension pot during their retirement – the 3 reasons why Unison members voted for strike action in the first place.

But Unison’s leadership have issued a press release today in which they controversially state that the results of this independent-scrutineer-approved-ballot, is not a mandate for further industrial action against the government’s proposed pension cuts.

They cite the slim margin of the victory – 2741 more NHS workers voted ‘No’ than ‘Yes’, and a low turnout for the ballot – 14.8% compared to 24.5% in last autumns strike ballot, as the basis for their decision.

But what the Unison leadership fail to mention is that they, wittingly or unwittingly, all but ensured a slim margin of victory and a low turnout:

Firstly, the leaflet and posters which they issued to all of their health branches implicitly encouraged those balloted to vote ‘Yes’ for the governments ‘final offer’. It bombarded the reader with lots of little bullet points showing ‘how Unison negotiators have battled hard and won significant improvements to the proposed pension scheme’.

At my branch committees meeting it was unanimously agreed that all of these little improvements to the governments ‘final offer’ didn’t actually add to up to anything significant at all. The vast majority of NHS workers would still be working longer, paying more and receiving less from the proposed NHS pension scheme cuts.

Secondly, the low turnout was fixed. On the aforementioned posters and leaflets advertising the ballot it was stated, rather ambiguously, that members would receive a postal ballot slip or could vote online.

Many members, myself included, presumed that this meant we could either wait for our ballot slip through the post, or could pre-empt it by voting online.

In practice a large number of members did not receive a postal ballot at all and instead were emailed by the leadership, reminding them that they could vote online. Just how many people didn’t read or respond to that email is now clear.

Despite the bungled-attempts by the Unison leadership to manage this pensions dispute to once again vaguely ‘consider the next steps in the pensions campaign’, the NHS workers of England and Wales should be clear on two things:

Firstly, that the majority of us are opposed to the governments plans to cut our NHS pension scheme.  In its current format it is still most definitely affordable and sustainable according to government auditors no less!

Secondly, if we’re Unison members (the majority of us are) then we still have a mandate for industrial action provided both by the results of today’s ballot and most especially by the ballot results published in on the 3 November 2011 where 81.2% of us voted ‘yes’ to strike action against the government’s plans to massively cut and wreck our pension scheme.

If we are to have any hope of saving our pension scheme from the ConDem wrecking machine, its vital that we make our colleagues clear about these two vital points and encourage them to argue for further industrial action in the near future.

That starts with persuading them to support the coordinated strike on the 10 May which will see the civil servants, the lecturers and their NHS colleagues in Unite walkout.

It then must rapidly move on to getting Unison to organize a national day of strike action in coordination with PCS, Unite, NUT, UCU and the other unions who together made 30 November 2011 such an inspiring day.

Tagged under: