Happy New Year to all our members, with special mention to all of you who worked over the festive period.
With ever increasing pressure on the NHS for patients, carers and staff, 2016 promises to be another year of stress and strain on our vital public service, as the full assault of the Tory government agenda - fired by a misapprehension that they have a genuine mandate after the general election - comes into effect.
For those of us that work in the NHS, the Trade Union Bill is of most immediate concern and is UNISON’s top campaigning priority over the next few months as the Bill worms its way through the House of Lords.
Although realpolitik might suggest that we should concentrate on what we'll do after it's carried, UNISON's aim along with our sister unions and the TUC is to make sure this legislation is not carried.
This is achievable. We can do it, but all union members will need to keep involved, so please look out over the upcoming days and weeks for guidance on what you can do. Particular emphasis will be on issues around industrial action and balloting. This includes lobbying for electronic and phone voting – plus properly scrutinised ballot boxes in workplaces – to be allowed, which would really increase participation in ballots.
And let us make one thing clear. It would be easy to dismiss the Trade Union Bill as only impacting on hard line left wing activists. This couldn't be further from the truth. The healthier the union movement in a country, the healthier the democracy. In modern society the right to withdraw our labour is one of the most powerful choices we can ever make in our life. No one takes it lightly, but everyone should have that right after meeting reasonable requirements.
This right has meant that even without always taking strike action our workplaces, whether unionised or not, have become more equal, safer and with better terms and conditions. There is still a long way to go, but do we really think that employers will advance the cause of workers without the campaigning and negotiating power of unions, backed up by a reasonable ability to take industrial action?
Throughout history, since workers organised, attacks on unions and trade unionists were often the first step governments took to curb the freedom of their people. This is not scare mongering. Even the Conservative MP David Davis has suggested parts of the Bill are like something out of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.
This is the conversation we should be having with others. We must get across to those who think the Bill does not concern them, that this is another further erosion on all of our long fought after freedoms.
As workers in mental health we have always been acutely aware of the unique pressures that our services face, especially being historically and proportionately underfunded compared to the rest of the NHS.
As a branch we have often fought on behalf of those that both support and are supported by these services. Fighting the 12 hour nursing shift, campaigning against the closure of East Sussex dementia beds and the breakup of award winning Brighton substance misuse services are just a few of our recent actions.
Perhaps in some way we have contributed to mental health moving up the agenda and the public's increased awareness. Recent research by Healthwatch England shows that mental health has become the area of NHS and social care the public most worry about and want improved, with delays in getting treatment and too little support for people in need their main concerns.
Inadequate support for people with mental illness has replaced the difficulty of getting a GP appointment as the public’s main frustration with the NHS.
With our Trust continuing to be under severe financial pressure to make cuts, the perception of inadequate support will only increase. The branch notes with both sadness and anger the decision to close our Trust's last remaining substance misuse ward in Brighton. We are not yet in possession of the full facts but we believe this is due to further budgetary cuts from commissioners as the privatisation agenda fuels the drive to push down the future costs of tendered services, making the NHS too expensive, with their highly qualified and trained staff, to make bids.
We are lucky to participate in one of the greatest and most efficient health services in the world. In 2016 you will continue to do this through your work, with dedication, care and perseverance. However you will also need to do this through your union membership by fighting against the attacks on unionism and in opposing privatisation of the public sector.
We wish you all the best in 2016 and hope to see you at our AGM and social at the Amex Stadium on Friday 26th February.
Nick, Comms Officer