Around 40 Unite members who work as Pharmacy Support Workers for NHS Tayside began an all-out strike yesterday. These heroic workers voted 100%, on a 90% turnout, to strike for grading and pay justice.
Picket lines at Ninewells hospital in Dundee and Perth Royal Infirmary were set up from early morning with an extremely high level of participation.
The dispute centres on the scandalous fact that this key group of workers are the lowest paid in NHS Tayside.
They are fighting for their band two grading to be increased to a band three. For more than a decade, the support workers have been taking on increased roles and responsibilities in the dispensing and delivery of prescriptions.
In part, this also reflects the “filtering down” of roles from higher paid grades to lower grades as part of NHS cost-cutting by health bosses.
Their role is unrecognisable from 15 years ago when under Agenda for Change they were banded amongst the lowest paid.
For ten years the workers have been fighting for justice, yet time and again been refused a re-grading. Even though it’s obvious to all that they deserve to be paid more for the work they do.
As the Unite strike leaflet the pickets were distributing this morning explained: “We want Tayside to acknowledge our duties, pay us a fair wage, and fix their process so no one will have to go through what we have.”
This morning we brought the 100% support and solidarity from Socialist Party Scotland and Young Socialists – Young Workers Rights’ campaign to the picket lines. (see picture).
Our members in the trade unions locally and nationally have already being raising this issue and will do all we can to build solidarity for the strikers. Our solidarity leaflet was also enthusiastically received by the pickets.
One of the points we made in the leaflet was how reminiscent this strike is with the Dundee hospital porters strike in 2015. Then it was a regrading issue and again Unite was the union involved.
An all-out 13 week-long strike concluded with a win for the porters, who were regraded after a bitter struggle with NHS Tayside bosses.
As we commented at the time: “Their victory was one for determined and resolute working-class action and militant trade unionism. It is also a defiant challenge to the so-called “partnership working” model advocated by right-wing trade union leaders in the NHS.”
The then NHS Tayside chief executive said that Unite was “acting contrary to what we would consider to be the normal actions of a reasonable trade union.”
NHS Tayside bosses were fearful that this militant campaign by Unite would become the new normal as more workers across the NHS look to fight back against low pay.
Today the Unite members taking action are facing the same hard-nosed attitude by a health board and top managers who are trying to axe almost £200 million from the NHS Tayside budget over the next four years.
This will mean large numbers of NHS staff facing attacks on pay, increased workload and ongoing chronic under-staffing. For that reason coordinated strike action by NHS unions across Tayside and indeed Scotland to fight the onslaught against the NHS should be built as a matter of urgency.
Behind these cuts to NHS spending are, of course, decisions by elected politicians. Yes, the Tory government at Westminster but also the SNP-led Scottish government at Holyrood.
The trade unions should demand that the health secretary intervene to insist this regrading takes place immediately.
It’s also time that the Scottish government stop carrying out Tory cuts. Elected politicians must start fighting alongside communities and trade unionists rather than acting as a conveyer belt for austerity.
MSPs should start by setting no cuts budgets, utilising the financial powers that exist and building mass campaigns to demand the £4 billion stolen in austerity from Scotland. The Scottish government must use its taxation powers to tax the rich to fund public services.
The Pharmacy Workers’ strike deserves the support of every NHS worker and every user of the health service. Above all the strike action shows a real mood to fight back and win.
After years of cut backs and attacks against workers in the health service, NHS bosses are fearful of strike action.
NHS Tayside must pay up! – For the immediate regrading of Pharmacy support staff
End attacks on pay, terms and conditions of NHS workers
Scottish government must fight austerity instead of passing on Tory cuts
Build for a one-day strike of NHS trade unions to fight low pay, unacceptable workload and understaffing and for a fully-funded NHS