THE DECISION by Yorkshire Ambulance Service workers to strike next weekend just as tens of thousands of visitors are expected to pour into the county to watch the Tour de France Grand Départ has been slammed by a Yorkshire MP as “smacking of opportunism”.
The union Unite announced the decision on Friday afternoon as part of a “long-running dispute over patient and staff safety issues”.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said the strike had been specifically timed to peak “media interest”, but it had been assured by branch members that Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) contingency measures would be enough to deal with demand.
“The event itself has its own health and safety,” said Mr Cunliffe. “If the Trust come back to us and say ‘this is dangerous’, I’d be happy to meet with them.”
But Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, whose constituency will be visited by the Tour on both days of the event, said the decision to pick the Tour de France weekend for industrial action “smacks of opportunism” and would be “unlikely to advance the union’s cause in the eyes of the public.”
He said: “The Tour de France will be a fantastic spectacle for Yorkshire and I am disappointed Unite have seen fit to plan a strike for the day of the Grand Depart, when hundreds of thousands, if not millions of spectators, will be enjoying the event.”
Coordinators of the Tour in Yorkshire, TdFHUB2014 Ltd, said in a joint statement with YAS that it was “fully committed” to providing a safe and secure event, and that “robust contingency plans” were in place to provide responsive and effective care over the Grand Départ weekend. It added: “Patient safety remains the Trust’s highest priority.”
Yesterday’s announcement is the latest volley in an 18-month dispute over the introduction of elongated shift patterns. 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 YAS officials said the low ballot turnout, just 177 of Unite’s 400 members, meant there was “no mandate” for the strike and that the union had shown “total disregard” for the welfare of patients.
Unite members voted by 84 per cent to strike between 6am and midnight on Saturday July 5 and from 6pm to 10pm on Sunday July 6 .
YAS chief executive David Whiting said: “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.”
Meanwhile, members of Unison’s Yorkshire Ambulance Service branch will be balloted over strike action next month.
Speaking with a week to go before the Grand Depart, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the way Yorkshire has secured and then organised the Grand Depart has showcased its ability to have a much greater say over its affairs.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “There is such great potential in Yorkshire for us to shape our own fate, make our own luck, create our own successes by everybody in Yorkshire working together in the name of Yorkshire and for the benefit of Yorkshire.”