Ambulance Watch: Strike action looms over ambulance sick pay dispute

East of England Ambulance Trust; PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY.

East of England Ambulance Trust; PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Front-line ambulance staff could go on strike this autumn over a dispute about a reduction in staff sick pay, union officials warned last night.

Unions and ambulance bosses across the country have been locked in talks over the last few months about plans to reduce sick pay for paramedics, emergency care assistants, technicians and control room staff who work unsocial hours.

Ambulance staff receive a 25pc increase in their basic pay for working weekend or nighttime shifts and in the past would have still received the unsocial hours payment if they called in sick.

Union officials spoke of their anger after staff were told at the end of last month that unsocial hours payments would end from September 1.

The move, which impacts 35,000 ambulance workers in England, means that union members are set to be balloted on potential strike action next month. The action would involve front-line workers from the under-performing East of England Ambulance Service, which covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

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Tony Hughes, regional organiser for the GMB said the union held a consultative ballot where 67pc of East of England members replied and 95pc were in favour of strike action. He added that members were likely to take part in a formal ballot in October.

'It compounds with the other stuff that has been happening over the years at the East of England Ambulance Service with shift changes and not having enough staff on the roads doing the job and working longer. A lot of ambulance staff are emergency care assistants that are on £14,000 a year and it is not a lot of money and a cut in sick pay is a huge amount to lose,' he said.

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Tim Roberts, regional organiser for Unison, said it was rare for ambulance staff to strike and added that the change would pose a big impact on ambulance staff off long-term sick.

'There is no need for any industrial action while we are negotiating. However, employers are walking away from talks and we have no choice but to consider industrial action. Ambulance staff do difficult and dangerous jobs and that is why the sickness pay is so important because of the amount of work related injuries.'

'Our members do not want to go on strike and is very much a last resort,' he said.

A ambulance spokesman said: 'On August 29, East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) staff were informed that there would be changes to their sickness pay, following a national NHS Staff Council agreement. The changes apply nationwide across all NHS ambulance trusts and took effect on September 1.'

'The new agreement meant that all staff who are absent from work due to sickness are paid at basic salary levels. Unsocial hours payments will no longer be paid for staff who are absent from work due to sickness for an unsocial hours shift and they will instead receive the basic salary.'

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