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Your Questions on Industrial Action Answered

Published 9th December 2022 by GMB EMAS

We know striking is stressful. There have been speculations and rumours around social media on how industrial action works and the effect it might have on both members, non-members and more importantly the patients we serve.

While GMB continues to work on the finer details of the strike action such as exemption criteria and picket lines we wanted to answer some of your questions to reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding the upcoming action.

Of course, if your question is not answered below please do contact us and we will be happy to answer this and will update this page as they come in. Please do not, however, pose any questions as to exemptions or picket lines as these will be answered as soon as possible in future posts.

Questions and Answers

What was GMBs position on the imposed pay award? 

This pay award was in fact – just another pay cut. GMB believes you’re worth more.

This was not a pay negotiation, it was an imposition of what the Government think you are worth. GMB consulted members on whether you would be willing to vote for industrial action due to the imposed pay award not being sufficient. 87% of members who voted nationally, did so in favour of industrial action.

As a result, formal industrial action ballots were carried out across the ambulance services and some NHS trusts where a majority of members in those workplaces had returned their ballot papers in favour of industrial action.

What is meant by industrial action?

Trade unions always try to resolve disputes through negotiation. But when that doesn’t work, industrial action may be needed as a last resort.

The industrial action you probably hear most about is going on strike. But there are other actions workers can take, such as picketing, go-slows, overtime bans and work to rule.

In Britain, the right to strike is governed by complex and restrictive industrial action laws. In summary, to count as ‘protected industrial action’, a strike must:

  • relate to a work dispute with your own employer.
  • be supported by a valid secret postal ballot with independent scrutiny, in which at least of half the balloted workers have voted (in other words, “not voting” counts as a vote against the strike).
  • be carried out with notice.

In addition, strikes involving workers who provide what the government calls an “important public service” can only be lawful if at least 40% of the workers balloted over the action vote in favour of it.  

What protections are in place for patients if we go on strike?

Some members may be exempted from participating in industrial action if they are “derogated to work” because their role or service is safety critical. Members who remain on duty because they are derogated may be asked to wear badges to indicate that they are supportive of the strike.Local arrangements will also be in place to determine what emergency and urgent care situations will be prioritised and those on strike are able to attend. Further information on this will be posted in the coming days.

Can I be sacked if I go on strike?

No. Provided that GMB balloted you in a formal industrial action ballot and a mandate for action was secured, there would have been formal notification of action issued to your employer which protects you when taking industrial action. You have the right to take industrial action and you can’t be legally forced to stay at or go back to work.

If you take industrial action, you may be considered to have broken (be ‘in breach of’) your employment contract and your employer is unlikely to pay for the work you didn’t do when you took industrial action. You will however be protected from dismissal.

However, if you take industrial action, your employer will reduce your length of service with them by the number of days you were on strike. This is important when working out your pension and things like statutory redundancy pay.

I’m not a GMB member, can I participate in the industrial action?

No. Only GMB members can participate in the industrial action.

While there has been speculation regarding striking of non-GMB members the following should be noted.

  • GMB will protect members as per the section above.
  • GMB will not advise non-GMB members.
  • Any non-GMB who chooses to strike and does not go to work. EMAS may consider employees absent on strike days as simply unauthorised absences. GMB will not assist those employees.
  • Any non-GMB who should be at work will not be able to join our GMB picket line.
  • Any non-GMB employees can join GMB and be part of the action immediately.

What do I do if the majority of GMB members at my employer voted for strike action, but I did not?

Strike ballots are confidential, so only you know how you voted in the strike ballot. Regardless of how any individual voted, GMB would hope that all members would support any strike action that was agreed by the majority. Doing so may actually make the action more effective and bring the dispute to a close more quickly.

What do I do if the employer offers me voluntary overtime to do the work of those on strike?

GMB would encourage members to decline this offer.

GMB members will always prioritise patient safety in accordance with your professional duties. Therefore, undertaking voluntary overtime should not be necessary for patient care and would simply be the employer trying to reduce the impact of strike action. Undertaking this work would undermine the impact of other union members’ action.

I am a manager/work in another department and the employer asks me to do the work of those on strike?

GMB would encourage members to decline the offer. However, members should not refuse to undertake a reasonable instruction which is within their job description.

There’s a picket at my workplace but I am not on strike, what do I do?

GMB members should always prioritise patient safety in accordance with your professional duties, the NHS terms of service, and your employment contracts. Therefore, you may still need to work even though your colleagues in other unions are striking.

If this is the case, those picketing should be assured that GMB members who cross the picket line will not undertake work that those on strike would normally have carried out, unless this is unavoidable due to patient safety and care or they are contractually obliged to undertake it. 

Workers who have not been called out on strike should attend their workplace as normal. If you cannot cross the picket line for some reason (for example health and safety), you should call your manager and make it clear that you are available for work and ask to be deployed elsewhere.

Undertaking alternative duties that do not require you to cross the picket may be an option, but for most GMB members who can only undertake duties where patients are, this means attending your normal place of work. Therefore, it may be necessary for non-striking GMB members to cross a picket line if you are due to work.

You will not be legally protected if you get involved in the industrial action. You can show moral support any way you like provided it does not amount to taking industrial action yourself or participating to encourage others to take industrial action.

All staff and students who are not included in the dispute should not join or form any part of an official picket line. You can however visit the picket line, when not on duty, to provide logistical support such as food and refreshments.

You can show support by not obstructing or discouraging colleagues from pursuing their legitimate right to take industrial action. You may also take part in any demonstrations on the issue as long as this is in your own time and the demonstration is not designed to discourage people from working. Any support you provide must not compromise your own position as a professional and employee who is not directly part of the dispute.

Where can I picket if I am on strike

Members can only picket at their place of work. If there is no picket line at your workplace you are not permitted to picket at another workplace, even if it is another site of your employer unless you also work at that site. Picketing should be at a location as near as possible to your place of work.

Further information on GMB EMAS picket lines and those on smaller stations will be available shortly.

How many members can be present on a picket line?

The Codes of Practice recommend that there should be no more than six people on a picket line at any one time. Therefore, local GMB officers and Committees will plan a rota to ensure all members who wish to picket have an opportunity to do so in line with the guidance.

Why does picketing have to be peaceful?

Picketing is only lawful as long as it is peaceful. If members engage in activity other than peaceful picketing, that could result in a breach of criminal law. These types of activities could include,

  •  unlawful use of force,
  • Use of threatening, abusive or insulting words to cause fear or threat of violence,
  • To use or threaten, assault, and violence,
  •  harassment or other threatening behaviour,
  •  obstruction of traffic and the highway to restrain vehicles or persons entering or leaving the premises,
  •  possession of an offensive weapon, 
  • damage to property 
  • Disorderly or unruly behaviour or action which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. 

The law protects peaceful communication and persuasion. It does not give protection to anyone organising or participating in activities associated with picketing protection against civil proceedings being brought against them for any misconduct during the picketing period. Therefore, it is important that members comply with any instructions given by the picket supervisor.

What is a picket supervisor?

A picket supervisor must be appointed who is either a GMB official or a member of GMB. Where more than one union is involved in the picketing each union must appoint their own picket supervisor. The key roles of the picket supervisors on the picket lines are to ensure that,

  • Picketing is conducted lawfully and peacefully
  • Pickets have badges or armbands so they can easily be identified
  • The number of pickets does not exceed 6 people at any exit or entrance to a workplace
  • The delivery of essential supplies, services and operations are understood and observed by the pickets.
  • Establishes and maintains close contact with GMB officials.

How will I be contacted about exemptions at night?

EOC will phone your station phone to ask if you would like to take an exemption. It is your choice based on the information if you accept this exemption.

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