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From front line to picket line

Just not taking anymore, Unite Yorkshire ambulance workers take a stand against cuts and patient safety

Unite members at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust have stood up for patient safety by taking strike action against cuts, staff downgrading and union de-recognition.

Following a 61 per cent vote by 212 Unite members to strike, hundreds walked out on April 2. Pickets were placed on 17 ambulance stations across south, west and east Yorkshire, with a particularly strong showing in the east. Braziers helped people keep warm on a bitterly cold day. Disappointment at being forced to take action was swiftly replaced by a steely determination to assert the need to defend patient and staff rights.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) is making £46m cuts over the next five years. “This destroys David Cameron’s pledge three years ago to ‘protect frontline’ services. What can be more frontline than 999 and an ambulance rushing to a major car crash?” asks Unite regional officer, Terry Cunliffe.

YAS is planning to replace technicians, which provide support to paramedics, with emergency care assistants with only six weeks’ training. Paramedic clinical supervisor Louise Whittaker, Unite YAS branch chair, said, “Technicians are being de-skilled and will basically become drivers unable to use their current patient saving skills. We already have some concerns as

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we have got two person unqualified crews going out on ambulances responding to emergencies.”

Many workers will quickly lose around £300 a month. Because while the trust is promising they will be employed, for the next five years, on similar terms and conditions they are not honouring previous incremental agreements. New starters will be on lower rates of pay.” Other pickets told similar stories, but when Unite raised concerns the trust de-recognised the union. An overtime ban and the strike on April 2 was the result.

Steve Bennett is the Unite workplace rep at Rotherham ambulance depot. After 33


years in the ambulance service he was, “gutted at being forced to take strike action for the first time. Decent pay and conditions go hand-in-glove with decent patient care. Ambulance staff work in difficult, traumatic situations to save people’s lives. The trust should start talking to Unite again and stop the run-down of the service.

“No emergency worker wants to withdraw their labour. But to get long-term gains we are willing to have some short-term pains,” added Debbie Wilkinson, Unite YAS branch secretary. As we go to press Debbie reports, “Management is still refusing to talk to us, and we will soon be considering further industrial action in June.”

Mark Harvey

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