Strike action looms as paramedics in Lancashire are balloted on overtime rules

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Ambulance staff in Lancashire are being balloted about possible industrial action over an overtime ban imposed on workers for taking time off sick.

Members of the Unite union who are employed by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) are being asked if they would be willing to take action to halt what the union believes is a way of punishing staff for being ill.

Ambulances

Ambulances

The dispute has reached a head more than two years after NWAS introduced the automatic 28-day ban on overtime for anyone returning to work after a period of absence.

Unite has condemned the measure, describing it as “punitive” and claiming it affects staff with “no consideration being given to the individual or the circumstances of the illness/absence.”

Neil Cosgrove, Lancashire branch secretary, said: “This measure was brought in through the back door with no consultation, negotiation or agreement.

"The ambulance service runs on overtime and a lot of staff rely on overtime to pay the bills.

“This has gone on long enough. We have tried to resolve it with management and held out an olive branch, but no-one has grasped it.

"So it’s got to the stage where we have said ‘enough is enough’. The feeling among our members is they have had enough and are fed up with the lack of progress over this issue.”

In a letter to members, officials say: “It was brought in without any consultation, negotiation and agreement. The rationale was to try and reduce the sickness levels, but this has proved unsuccessful.

“There is an increasing despondency amongst staff at this totally unacceptable treatment.”

While NWAS has since indicated it might consider a compromise, the union has decided to ballot staff to see if they would be prepared to take action.

“We have been extremely patient with management, but this situation cannot continue,” said a spokesman.

NWAS has stressed that health and safety of staff “comes first”, adding that discussions are under way.

Lisa Ward, Interim Director of Organisational Development for NWAS, said: “Overtime is undertaken on a voluntary basis and we have to always ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of our staff comes first.

“These arrangements have been in place for some time now but we can confirm we are currently engaging with Unite and their colleague Trade Unions regarding their concerns.”