'Shifts will be covered' vows Lincs County Council if health visitors carry on striking

Protesters in Gainsborough.
Protesters in Gainsborough.

Lincolnshire County Council has vowed to cover striking health visitor's shifts if further strikes go ahead, as it announces a new career progression scheme.

The council has confirmed a career progression scheme for health visitors will be implemented in October.

And, it said it has "robust" plans in place to support resident in the event of further strikes called by Unite union.

Health visitors, which are trained nurses, who assist or advise people in their homes have been protesting in Gainsborough for better pay and the council’s introduction of a two-tier health visitor role, bringing in junior and senior positions.

Unite said the service had not had a pay rise since it was taken over by Lincolnshire County Council in 2017.

If the service had remained in the NHS the workers would have received a pay increase of 6.5 per cent over three years.

Heather Sandy, interim director of education for the council, said: "We remain committed to moving ahead with career progression plans for our health visitor workforce.

"We have written to staff explaining how the scheme will work and how it offers salaries beyond those available in the NHS. All health visitors who successfully progress through the scheme will benefit in this way.

"With regard to the current industrial action, the council were disappointed that Unite, who represent about a third of the health visiting workforce, continually failed to engage with our Collective Disputes Procedure and took the step of balloting for industrial action. We have engaged with constructive dialogue with representatives from Unite with the assistance of ACAS in an attempt to resolve their dispute.

"We wish to reassure the public that if further strikes go ahead, we have plans in place to cover absences, particularly in the most vulnerable areas such as safeguarding and primary birth visits.

"Of the 116 Health Visitors employed by the Council, 58 are members of Unite. Whilst 45 of the 58 Unite members voted for industrial action, on average only 12 Health Visitors per day have taken industrial action. The vast majority of our valued workforce have continued to work as normal and are providing care for Lincolnshire's families."

A spokesman for the Unite Union said: "This council concurringly believe that it is fair to say to an employee, ‘sorry’ but you will not be entitled to a pay award from now until you retire. It’s as if the council do not value these highly specialised health visitors. Unite submitted a pay claim to the council on behalf of our members to deliver for them pay that they have lost and at a rate they should already be on. The council have said that these employees are only qualified to a role the council have introduced, that is inferior to the role they already undertake for young families throughout Lincolnshire. The council have already removed from the health visitors role, the right to prescribe, which means families now have to visit GP surgeries, meaning this adds pressure to both GPs and families.

"The council is seeking to assure the public that this action is having no effect on their service, but this is simply not the case as our members are telling us that visits are not being made to families and a vast amount of tasks remain uncompleted.

"The council are also seeking to mislead readers with their comments in regard to the number of health visitors taking industrial action, as our records show that over the 14 strike days to date the council have lost 256 days productivity, just for those members who have attended the strike days on both picket and demonstrations. This number is also not the full picture as it does not include those that are on strike and unable to attend the demo or are on picket duty.

"The council are also seeking to hold up ‘career progression’ as some sort of holy grail. Our members have seen the career progression document through last year and up to February this year when the council withdrew it. This was well before a trade dispute was registered for our members regarding the pay freeze they are suffering. It simply begs the question, why would members have voted to take action, if they had faith our trust in the career progression scheme?

"The answer is that they clearly do not believe it will deliver for them because the council hold all the keys which can actually stop progressing, regardless of what work they undertake and hold them in an unsuitable pay bracket for the work they are undertaking.

"Unite have met with the council five times with ACAS facilitating conciliation asking the employer to implement a pay award on behalf of these member, as all other council employees have received awards, but this has been met with complete negativity by this employer, simply in an effort to cut cost."