As hundreds of thousands of visitors pour into the Harrogate district for the Tour de France next weekend, Yorkshire Ambulance Service workers are voting to be on strike.
The union Unite announced the decision today as part of a ‘long-running dispute over patient and staff safety issues’.
The union said it had received ‘a very strong mandate’ to carry out the action ‘to ensure that the already over-stretched ambulance staff did not become exhausted’ in carrying out its duties.
But furious health service officials said the low ballot turnout meant there was ‘no mandate’ for the strike and that the union had shown ‘total disregard’ for the welfare of patients.
Unite members working at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust voted by 84 per cent to strike between 6am and midnight on Saturday 5 July and from 6pm to 10pm on Sunday 6 July.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “This is a very strong mandate and we urge the trust’s chief executive David Whiting, who recently imposed new draconian conditions without any agreement with the unions, to sit down for urgent and constructive talks.”
Today’s announcement is the latest volley in an 18-month dispute over the introduction of elongated shift patterns. A union statement today said it was ‘only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of staff exhaustion’.
Nearly 400 Unite Yorkshire ambulance members have held a series of strikes from April 2013.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust chief executive David Whiting said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the Unite the Union ballot result and the continued threat of industrial action. There is no mandate for strike action with less than 50 per cent turnout from Unite members; only 177 people participated in the vote from our total workforce of over 4,600 staff.
“Strike action is certainly not in the best interests of our patients and we are disappointed that Unite continues to put patients at risk. By choosing to take industrial action over the weekend of the Tour de France when Yorkshire will be proud to be showcasing its people, places and warm welcome to a world-wide audience, it reflects the total disregard Unite has for the welfare of patients. Their actions are clearly designed to try and disrupt vital services for local residents, visitors and vulnerable patients who find themselves in an emergency situation.
“We would like to reassure members of the public that Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust is committed to minimising the level of disruption to its services during any periods of industrial action and we have robust contingency plans in place to ensure we continue to provide responsive, effective and safe services for our patients.”