NHS HR directors have added their voices to the growing opposition to the government’s trade union bill in a development welcomed by the CSP.
In evidence to Parliament London HR directors, representing 250,000 staff, highlighted their concerns about the negative impact on partnership arrangements of the Government’s proposals, which includes thresholds for industrial action ballots, ending the ban on agency staff replacing striking workers and a stop to “check-off” system for paying union subscriptions.
'The NHS has taken a partnership approach to employee relations, working with trade unions in a manner that has so far minimised the risk of industrial action through strong partnership arrangements. This has paid dividends through improved patient care, a better employee voice and staff engagement,' said Deborah O’Dea, Chair of London HRD network, in a statement to the Public Bill Committee, which is currently considering the trade union bill.
Ms O’Dea also recognised that 'strikes are not common in the NHS' and when they happen they have been 'brief'.
A letter from HR directors and regional union representatives from the east of England, reiterated these points, and like their London counterparts suggested the Five Year Forward View, published a year ago, may be set back by the changes in the bill, the Financial Times reported.
Among those who have written to Matthew Hancock, cabinet office minister, to express concerns is Dean Royles, until recently chief executive of NHS Employers, and who is now NR director at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. Mr Royles said industrial relations in the NHS and the wider public sector had moved on significantly in the past decade or so, the FT reported.
'We get so much more, day-in day-out, from working with trade unions and I’m anxious we don’t damage the largely constructive relationships we enjoy,' he said. He urged the government to consult employers about the potential impact before taking a final decision on ending 'check off'.
NHS workforce Directors in Wales have also criticised the bill.
In a letter to the cabinet office, Richard Tompkins Director NHS Wales Employers stated that 'the NHS’s workforce challenges are best addressed by an efficient, engaged and productive workforce, where there is regular consultation and ongoing dialogue with our staff and a key element of this approach is through social partnership with trade unions representing NHS staff.'
'We feel that some of the proposals outlined in the Trade Union Bill could have a detrimental effect on this relationship and potentially lead to unnecessarily challenging industrial relations in future.'
Commenting on these concerns, CSP director Claire Sullivan said: 'We welcome the comments from employers who deal with the practical aspects of relationships in the workplace on a daily basis. We hope the Government will also listen. This bill is unnecessary, undemocratic and potentially damaging for patient care in the NHS.'
The TUC welcomed the NHS employers' 'significant intervention'.
General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 'They share our concerns that the Trade Union Bill will damage industrial relations and make disputes harder to resolve. Rather than crossing the road to pick a fight with unions, ministers should be looking to work with us to boost staff engagement and performance. Attacking the right to strike is a divisive tactic that will hurt workplace morale and productivity.'
Find out how you can get involved on this website: www.csp.org.uk/tradeunionbill