999 crews turn down £1,500 tea-break deal

Union members have rejected the latest deal to resolve a dispute over rest breaks for ambulance staff in Scotland.

Fears that patients’ lives could be put at risk have been rekindled following yesterday’s decision by paramedics and ambulance crews to reject the latest management offer aimed at breaking the deadlock.

The latest enhanced package would have given ambulance personnel a one-off payment of £1,500 plus a payment of £100 each time their rest break was interrupted, to replace the previous £250 annual payment.

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The offer was rejected by 77 per cent of ambulance crews who are members of the GMB union, 62 per cent of Unite members and 65 per cent of Unison members.

The dispute first flared following the furore over the death of Mandy Mathieson in October, 2010, at her home in the Speyside village of Tomintoul. An ambulance technician – on duty just 800 yards from her home – chose not to respond to an emergency call.

Union leaders are due to meet the management of the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Government representatives in Edinburgh on Monday in a fresh bid to end the stalemate.

Yesterday, as Mandy Mathieson’s brother called on all sides in the dispute to “get it sorted – whatever it needs”, Mick Conroy, the senior organiser with the GMB in Scotland, said it was now time for Ms Sturgeon to intervene directly.

Mr Conroy said: “Again this vote proves what we have been saying all along. This is not about money – it’s about breaks.

“Now is the time for the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon to take a more hands-on approach. The situation is of such a magnitude that senior ministers must get involved and meet the unions to try to solve this problem. Throwing money at it is not the answer.”

Pat Rafferty, the Scottish Secretary of Unite, said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service and the Scottish Government may feel that long-term problems over working-time can be resolved by a short-term buy-off but the majority of our members think otherwise. We have consistently said that this matter can be resolved quickly with an agreement that genuinely clarifies the terms and conditions for this essential service.

“Certainly the resolution to this can be found within the Scottish Government and the input of Nicola Sturgeon is quite crucial. But we need to find a balance with the need for breaks and delivering the service that is required for the public.

“The last thing the public wants and the last thing our members want is to have ambulance drivers out there working seven or eight hours or whatever without having a break.”

David Forbes, the Scottish organiser for Unison, said: “There is sizeable percentage of our members who would not accept whatever kind of money you were throwing at them.

“Clearly there are some who found the latest offer acceptable and it may well be that what we need to look at more is individual choice in the matter.”

Last night, as Ms Sturgeon pledged to “oversee all necessary action” to ensure the crisis was addressed as a matter of urgency, Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative’s health spokesman, accused the trade unions of putting lives at risk.

He said: “It is ludicrous that the unions have rejected what was a fair and reasonable deal. The general public will find it incredibly hard to understand why these workers are having tea breaks when people’s lives are at stake.”