WORKERS, FEBRUARY 2004 ISSUE
It's known as the Agenda for Change, a far-reaching agreement on pay and conditions. After more than three years of negotiation, and more than six months of being tested out at twelve "early implementer" sites across Britain, it's coming to decision time for the NHS's 1.3 million workers.
In February the unions and the government review the progress of early implementation, and make proposals for revision and improvement. UNISON's Health Conference in April will defer discussion to a specially convened conference sometime later, to be followed by a ballot of its 400,000 plus members, probably in July.
Many unions have concerns over sections of the NHS -- Amicus for pharmacists and some others, the RCN for nurses, the RCM for Midwives and so on -- but only UNISON has a responsibility for the whole of the NHS (apart of course from doctors and medical staff, who have their own negotiating bodies). In UNISON the battle lines are clear: unless we take responsibility for bringing about improvement, we can't be serious about wanting it.
These arguments will be expanded in Workers and a wider debate stimulated. In the meantime workers everywhere should be put on guard that the future of the NHS, one of organised workers' greatest achievements, is now to be fought over. Workers controlling their workplace is always what marks out progress, and Agenda for Change is about workers controlling the NHS. Those who want to control it in our interests are for it, or want to improve it. Those who do not are against.
Watch this space! Views from workers in and out of the Health Service are welcome.