For the first time ever in my life, as a member of Unison, I am reluctantly striking between the hours of nine and eleven this morning over the subject of NHS pay. Of course, as I am committed to the people that I work with, I will go into work if there is an emergency but felt that I really should do something to make a stand. It isn't a decision that I've reached lightly. At the time when I least need it, for motorhome renovation is not cheap, I'll be losing two hours pay. The fact that I often, out of sheer necessity, work additional hours without financial reward or recognition, of course does not figure. The argument would be that I should be able to do my ever expanding job within the allocated hours. Yeah right!
I acknowledge that there's a lot of private sector workers out there who think that we've got a good deal in the NHS as our pay and benefits are better than theirs. However the fact that there's a whole bunch of other people out there who are being put upon to an extent that's worse doesn't mean that we should hold our tongues. And what about the argument that when it comes to the economic crisis that we're all in this together? Well that only seems to go for the lower echelons of society. MPs have decided that are exempt from taking pay rises for the good of all. And let's go closer to home in the health service itself. Doctors have not suffered pay freezes for the last few years like the rest of us. There seems to be an unspoken rule that this is a taboo subject though.
According to Unison, who I admit might be a little biased on this, I have lost at least £4,719 because of below inflation pay rises and stand to loss a further £794 this year. I contribute more to a pension that will pay out less and as in a stealth raid, my mileage allowance was cut from 67p to 54p a mile. Even though I'm still saving by taking out a personal lease rather than staying in the NHS lease scheme, that gets more and more expensive but is sold as a benefit, it has scuppered my budgeting.
Thinking back it has been getting harder to make ends meet. The costs of council tax and utilities have been going up and up. I now think before going out or treating myself. Has my decision to downsize drastically and move into a motorhome been because of this? I honestly don't think so but the money that I'll save certainly has been a consideration. In my own job I don't have the option of working extra shifts and don't earn the extras that come on top of the pay of doctors. I recall a time, a few years back now, when I was the one who juggled childcare arrangements to remain in a smelly house way after 5pm, my scheduled finish time, reassuring a person who'd just been sectioned while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. The consultant who signed the paperwork within their scheduled working hours, popped in and got a three figure sum for the privilege. How is that fair? I know there's an argument here about the choice of career I made but even that falls down. What I signed up when I decided to become an occupational therapist was a definite career structure that doesn't exist anymore. I'm effectively at the top of a very stunted tree as far as progression as a clinician is concerned.
My arguments as an individual would fall on death ears. So lets see if Billy Bragg is right and there's value in that collective voice that the union provides. Somehow I think that we'll just be portrayed as an ungrateful group of scroungers by the posh lot in government. Fear of being bullied by the big boys isn't a reason to remain silent though.
PS: Just to be very clear. Won't be ganging up on my colleagues who're not striking. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I think it's still a free country isn't it?
PPS: In lieu of being on a picket line because I don't know of any, I will be using my two hours off for study as I have to do the bulk of this outside work hours. I wanted my time to be spent productively.