Members of UNISON West Sussex joined junior doctor members of the BMA (British Medical Association) on their picket lines on Wednesday 10 February. This was in support of their campaign against contractual changes outlined by the government which will put patient safety at risk.
Branch members talked at length to doctors on the picket line, who explained that the government plans to impose new contracts on them from August 2016. This has quickly become a reality.
In November, the government made a fresh offer to doctors. It included an 11% rise in basic pay for junior medics. But that came at a price: other elements of the pay package are to be curbed, including what constitutes unsociable hours.
Guaranteed pay increases linked to time in the job are also to be scrapped and replaced with a system linked to progression through set training stages.
But these changes have partly been designed to make it cheaper to roster extra doctors on at weekends. Junior doctors already work weekends – in fact, they provide the bulk of the medical staffing on Saturdays and Sundays.
Therefore, medics are likely to find they are working more weekends, which, under the existing contract, would have led to extra pay.
What is more, some of the changes will take time to have an effect. For example, the ending of guaranteed pay rises linked to time-in-the-job will mean some doctors find their pay will go up more slowly during their time as a junior medic.
This erosion in pay and terms and conditions of employment is an important test for all trade unions. Our own further education members will be taking part in industrial action later this month as cuts to their service impact deeply on the ability of staff to provide a good service. Therefore, it’s important we show solidarity with BMA members as the outcomes of their action may well set the benchmark for how this government deals with future industrial disputes.