Protests fall on deaf ears
Article by Tom Wright and James Franklin in today's Weston Mercury
PROTESTS have been held outside the Town Hall and Weston General Hospital over the potential introduction of regional pay in the NHS.
Dozens of people raised Unison placards and called for a change of policy ahead of a North Somerset Council meeting on Tuesday evening and Weston Area Health Trust (WAHT) AGM yesterday (Wednesday).
North Somerset Unison members are pushing for the trust to abandon plans to form part of a South West consortium along with 19 other health trusts.
The so-called postcode lottery could mean NHS staff in Weston are paid less than other areas of the country despite carrying out the same job, a spokesman said. She added in some cases staff could lose out by up to 15 per cent.
Labour councillor Richard Tucker called for the council to make a stand against the idea and to back Unison’s calls to pressure WAHT to change its policy, too.
Speaking at Tuesday’s full council meeting, he said: “Workers would be paid less on average than their colleagues in Birmingham or Southampton doing the same job – in short the break-up of what was in created in 1948 as the NHS.”
Labour colleague Catherine Gibbons added: “It would be unfair to suggest that people in the public sector should be paid less for choosing to work in a rural area and I believe North Somerset will be adversely affected.”
However, councillors voted against the motion by a ratio of 27 to nine.
The Unison spokesman said thousands of people could be affected by the regional pay consortium. She said: “In North Somerset there are 20,000 public sector workers. This is the largest employment sector in the district with just over a quarter of all employees.
“About 2,000 of these public sector employees work for the health trust.
“Public sector workers are already feeling the pinch from pay freezes, the VAT rise and inflation. The further loss of income for health care workers will impact on the North Somerset economy.
“Holding back public sector pay will take money out of public sector workers’ pockets that they would otherwise spend in local shops and businesses.”
A WAHT spokesman said no definite proposals on pay levels have been put forward.
She said: “The consortium and this trust believe the challenge can best be addressed by exploring options for change and flexibility around pay, terms and conditions, without the need for a large reduction in staff numbers that would undermine services and impact on patients and staff.”