IF industrial relations experts need a perfect example for training purposes of how not to run an employment dispute, they need look no further than the current junior doctors’ strikes.
The doctors’ trade union, the BMA, and in particular its militant Scargillite wing, seems intent on leading the junior doctors to a catastrophic defeat that will not only see them losing the argument, but – far more importantly – will put the reputation of the entire medical profession at risk.
Faced with a growing backlash from its own members, the BMA this week cancelled a five-day strike planned for next week – but at the time of writing similar strikes in October, November and December are still due to take place.
If this happens many senior doctors – including the respected General Medical Council – have warned patients will suffer, and some may die.
And for what? The junior doctors are currently in the ridiculous position of campaigning against a contract that was negotiated and agreed on their behalf by their own trade union!
As recently as last May, the union’s chief negotiator described the contract as “fair” and as a “good deal” for junior doctors and urged its acceptance.
The members subsequently rejected that recommendation in a ballot, and the union has now decided to intensify the industrial action – despite growing unease within the profession about the impact on the public.
Don’t for a moment think that any point of high principle is at stake here. Forget all that sanctimonious guff about “saving the NHS” and “we are only doing this for the patients”.
No, this dispute is about one thing only – cold, hard cash.
Junior doctors are demanding extra money for working on Saturdays – and they are prepared to put lives at risk in order to get it.
Millions of people who routinely work evenings and weekends – often for no extra pay whatsoever – must look on with something akin to astonishment.
When they entered the profession, did no one explain to junior doctors that medical staff would sometimes be required to work on Saturdays?
Did they think that people only get sick between the hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday?
Of course, if keeping weekends free is so important to junior doctors, they could always find alternative employment in another graduate profession – although the drastic reduction in salary will come as something of a seismic shock.
For the fact is that junior doctors are well paid and have excellent career prospects and pension arrangements.
Their medical degrees are hugely subsidised by the taxpayer and once they become consultants – typically in their mid to late 30s – they can expect a minimum salary of between £75,000 to £100,000 a year.
In between they work as junior doctors on a starting salary of around £23,000, rapidly rising to £30,000 within four years, plus various supplements that substantially boost basic pay.
But of course being a doctor should be about more than money – it is a vocation dedicated to relieving pain and suffering and helping people lead healthy and fulfilled lives.
That is precisely why the public overwhelmingly supports the medical profession and holds doctors in such high regard.
But in the face of these destructive and dangerous strikes that support is beginning to fracture.
A YouGov poll for The Times this week showed a dramatic fall in public support for the strikes since the spring. The results showed 48 per cent of people oppose the strikes with just 34 per cent in favour.
I am sure there are many sensible members of the BMA who are horrified at the direction their union is taking. It is time for them to make their voices heard and to put an end to this dispute.
Despite the mad dreams of the far left, the BMA is not going to bring down the Government and it is not going to win. And when this campaign inevitably ends in failure, it is the ordinary union members – not their leaders – who suffer. Just ask the miners.
Doctors should understand that what is at stake here is something far more precious than a few quid extra for working Saturdays – it is the trust and respect of the British public, and you risk that at your peril.