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Pharmacy workers begin strike over pay dispute amid claims of government interference

Strike action has begun at NHS Tayside after a pharmacy support workers voted unanimously in favour of action.

Jeane Freeman, cabinet secretary for Health and Sport in Scotland

Source: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

Jeane Freeman, cabinet secretary for Health and Sport in Scotland, has been accused of directly intervening “to bring the talks to an end between both parties”

Pharmacy support workers at NHS Tayside have begun strike action, following the breakdown of talks between NHS officials and Unite the Union over a pay dispute.

According to a statement from the union, published on 19 August 2019, the talks broke down amid claims the Scottish government “intervened to bring the talks to an end” — a claim the Scottish government refutes.

In June 2019, pharmacy support workers in Tayside voted unanimously in favour of industrial action over a pay dispute, after arguing that they were being held to a lower pay grade than they should be. Unite served NHS Tayside with notice of its intention to strike in July 2019, with the strike to start on 19 August 2019.

However, Susan Robertson, Unite’s regional industrial officer, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that negotiations had ended on 9 August 2019.

“Pharmacy support workers in NHS Tayside have been severely let down by the cabinet secretary for health and sport,” she said, adding that talks between the two parties “had been making significant progress to the extent we believed a process for dealing with the outstanding grading issues was on the brink of being agreed to which could end the dispute”.

But she said cabinet secretary ”Jeane Freeman directly intervened to bring the talks to an end between both parties on the creation of this independent process”. 

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said it was “made aware of Unite members support for industrial action on 11 June [2019] and subsequently of this planned industrial action on 11 July [2019]”.

However, they argued: “The cabinet secretary has not directly intervened in these matters but, when local processes couldn’t be completed, the [NHS Tayside] board sought her view and she has asked her officials to provide whatever support and assistance they can in order to bring about a resolution.”

George Doherty, director of workforce for NHS Tayside, said that the board ”formally referred this matter for independent consideration to the Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee (STAC)”, which is the senior independent body in NHS Scotland responsible for terms and conditions issues.

“NHS Tayside has always sought to avoid any industrial action and remains committed to working with Unite in accordance with the nationally-agreed framework. NHS Tayside hopes that STAC will provide a means of resolution,” he said, adding that the region has “robust contingency plans in place to minimise any potential disruption” caused by the strike.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206969

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