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History in the making: What next after recognition

There have been many historic moments in the history of trade unions that have changed the way we live and work.

On 22nd December 2016 another historic moment took place when the HCSA gained formal recognition and became the only TUC-affiliated trade union to hold national collective bargaining rights for hospital doctors in England.

Some weeks later in his office, HCSA General Secretary Eddie Saville is reflecting on the process and its future implications.

“While this may not be on the scale of the Tolpuddle Martyrs it does represent a momentous sea change in the landscape of medical industrial relations that will leave an indelible footprint on the HCSA’s history,” he says.

“The HCSA has always been a strong, independent organisation,” he says. “The officers of today and of those going back many decades have never lost sight of the importance of pursing formal trade union recognition – to be able to sit at the negotiating table in our own right and directly negotiate the terms and condition of service for our members.”

Eddie explains that the recognition journey also shone a fresh light on past events, in particular in the 1970s, where the then officers of the HCSA sought a place at the negotiating table on behalf of the members of the day.

“Those officers championed the HCSA’s independence and stood up for the right to represent their members nationally on the basis of partnership and not patronage, as had been the case,” he says. “Nearly 50 years later many of the same arguments used then have been successful now.”

Eddie is clear that the HCSA’s determined “front and centre” role in giving voice to members’ concerns, even in the absence of formal recognition, was key in laying the groundwork for recognition.

“It has not come at a whim of the employers nor has it been as a result of any political manoeuvring by government and employers to weaken or divide the medical workforce,” he says.

“It has been solely based on our increasing influence and presence, our reputation as a strong advocate for the principles of partnership working, our TUC affiliation, our collaboration with fellow NHS trade unions and professional associations and the vast experience we bring to the negotiating table.

“We believe in the richness of a united medical workforce as we face the challenges that have and will continue to be tabled by employers and Government.”

Recognition will mean that the HCSA will participate in all future national negotiations through the various specific joint negotiating mechanisms for all medical contracts, including consultants, juniors and SAS grades, and in collective bargaining through NHS Staff Council arrangements for pay and terms and conditions common to all staff groups.

“It marks a major new chapter in the interactions between our members, employers, Government and our fellow NHS trade unions,” says Eddie.

“The feedback we have had from many stakeholders including NHS Trusts, fellow trade unions, the media and many of our members has been positive and refreshing and one which has been welcomed across the service.”

However, while recognition may mark the beginning of a new chapter for HCSA and the hospital doctors it represents, it also brings with it new organising challenges.

The association has already begun a drive to review and modernise its hospital reps training programme as a result.

Eddie explains: “We have enlisted the support from Unionlearn, the TUC’s excellent learning and skills organisation, to create a new bespoke online course that will be at the cutting edge of interactive trade union training, giving our hospital reps the best possible skills to engage with employers at Trust level.”

He adds that HCSA will continue to look at ways to improve its service to members and the overall package of membership benefits as, with its new national status, membership increases across the medical workforce.

“The HCSA has always been a mainstream trade union and professional association, and it was our professionalism that shone through during what turned out to be complex discussions with the various parties involved,” he says.

“I am delighted that we will now be able to negotiate our members’ pay and terms and conditions directly with the employers and Government in the future rather than having to watch from the sidelines.

“I know we can do a great job for our members and the entire medical workforce. We have the skills, the commitment and, above all, a growing and engaged membership that will see us succeed.”