Health visitors in Lincolnshire have called off ongoing strike action following a ‘pay victory’, trade union Unite said today.
The long-running dispute with Lincolnshire County Council is set to end after a deal that could see most of the workforce paid between £2,000 and £6,000 in a ‘one-off transitional payment’ and upgraded to the grade 10 pay scale.
Unite – which represents 76 out of a total 126 health visitors – was concerned that the council’s ‘career progression scheme’, implemented in October, unfairly divided the health visitor role into two levels, called grades 9 and 10.
The trade union argued that all health visitors should be on grade 10, which it said equates to band 6 on Agenda for Change that NHS health visitors start on at the beginning of their career.
Strike action that first took place in July, when around 450 shifts over 32 days were lost, escalated after two-thirds of health visitors voted for further strike action in October. This started on 18 November and was set to end on 13 December.
Of more than 70 health visitors who voted for further strike action in October, 58 will now be fast-tracked onto grade 10 posts while 16 further Agenda for Change staff await confirmation. This leaves a ‘handful of relatively new health visitors on grade 9’, said Unite.
Unite has said that it will explore ‘every avenue’ to upgrade health visitors still on grade 9 to grade 10 as soon as possible. It also stressed it reserves the right to reinstate strike action if the council does not follow the agreement.
Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said she thought the compromise was reached in part because the council was ‘continuing to lose highly skilled health visitors’, calculating that more than 20 left or were planning to leave their jobs since the dispute started.
Ms Patel continued: ‘There was also the stark realisation by council bosses that our members were prepared to take further strike action on top of what they had already taken in the summer, after a second ballot confirmed they were prepared to continue on with further industrial action.
‘This victory should be seen in the context of a broader campaign for a fully-resourced health visiting service across England – that fight will continue across the country in 2020.’
Welcoming the ‘highly significant’ victory, Unite regional officer Steve Syson thanked the ‘tremendous solidarity our members have shown since this dispute started in the summer’.
He added: ‘The health visitors’ determination against what they considered as a gross pay injustice was buttressed by the firm backing from the people of Lincolnshire and from supporters across the UK.’
In England, health visitors have seen a 31% drop in numbers – from 10,309 health visitors in October 2015 to 7,026 as of June 2019.
Heather Sandy, interim director of education, said the council is ‘pleased that Unite are considering accepting the offer we put to them early this year’.
She continued: ‘Since October, health visitors have been able to go through the council’s career progression scheme, which we have consistently said would offer them competitive terms and conditions and accounts for the vast majority of the uplift they will receive. We are pleased that the dispute is nearing completion.’