Interim offer could end ambulance row
Public services union UNISON is balloting its members in the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) on an offer of compensation for interrupted meal breaks.
The offer could signal a truce in a long-running dispute that dates back to June 2005, when ambulance trusts introduced unpaid and undisturbed meal breaks for crews.
As a result, the NEAS does not call out its ambulance crews in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham to attend emergencies while they are on their breaks - a practice that has been much criticised, with allegations that lives may even have been lost as a result.
Although some ambulance trusts have agreed arrangements allowing crews to attend emergencies during their breaks, the NEAS has not done so until now. But managers proposed an interim measure last month of a £35 payment for every occasion when ambulance crew members have to end a meal break early because they are the closest to an emergency incident.
UNISON is recommending that their members vote in favour of the payment; if they do, it will remain in effect while negotiations on a national settlement take place."The offer is not an ideal solution for our members," admitted branch secretary Joel Byers, "but we recognised that urgent action was needed to address this issue."