Hospital staff celebrate anniversary of successful dispute

Healthcare workers organised by UNISON are today (Thursday) celebrating the one year anniversary of a landmark industrial dispute that delivered pay increases of between £500 and £2,000 for those involved at the Morriston, Singleton and Princess of Wales hospitals at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU).

For three years, workers in the sterilisation and disinfection units at ABMU and their UNISON representatives repeatedly made the case to senior managers that rates of pay were inferior to those in other Welsh hospitals but the health board refused to listen. That changed when staff voted by 96 per cent to walk out on strike on 25 January 2017 in a 24-hour stoppage.

UNISON described the improved pay award as a powerful example of what ‘people power’ can achieve.

On the anniversary of the dispute, employees described how their steadfast and united stand shocked the health board which had been dismissive of their claim, assuming their complaint would melt away. Remembering the freezing cold picket lines last January, sterilisation unit workers said they took great heart from the support shown by patients and their families and other members of staff who brought warm drinks to those on strike. One healthcare worker spoke of her pride at being on the picket line and how the solidarity had empowered everyone. Another said they had demonstrated by standing together that nothing is impossible.

Mark Turner, UNISON organiser at ABMU said,

“Sterilisation has been recognised as a professional role and the operating theatres, wards and clinics could not function without these workers. They’re only demand was to be paid the rate for the job and for their skills and dedication to be properly recognised.

“There hadn’t been a strike in the NHS for years and their marvellous unity secured exactly what they deserved: pay parity. Now a new structure is in place and healthcare workers have much more confidence they can raise concerns in the workplace.

“Their victory is a great advert for why everyone should belong to a trade union. Working collectively, we can improve your employment conditions.”

Notes to editors

  • Assistant Technical Officers (ATO) carry out a vital role, sterilising and decontaminating equipment, tools and machinery used in diagnostics and surgery. Without this support, doctors, nurses, surgeons and others would not be able to undertake the essential work they do.
  • ABMUHB covers Bridgend County Borough, Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, the western part of Vale of Glamorgan and Ystradgynlais in Powys.
  • Elsewhere in Wales, ATO staff are employed on Band 3. At ABMU by contrast, ATOs worked to an out-of-date job description and inferior rates of pay on Band 2. Across a year, UNISON has said ABMU staff are worse off by between £466 and £1,879 depending on their length of service in the post.
  • 96 per cent of participating staff in the hospital sterilisation and disinfection units voted in favour of industrial action
  • A parallel pay dispute with the x-ray departments was quickly resolved as 100 per cent of participating staff voted in favour of industrial action.



Alastair Gittins, UNISON Press Officer on 07816 538397