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We have to renegotiate the juniors’ contract

After two years collecting dust in the Department of Health, the NHS Employers contract scoping report was published just before Christmas. Why should you care? Well, the publication of this report marks the beginning of a process that could see a new contract for junior doctors, and that could mean major changes to our pay and working conditions. Releasing the report marks a clear intention to renegotiate the contract by the government.

While our contract isn’t perfect, we haven’t been clamouring for a renegotiation given the current economic climate. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the economy is not likely to pick up anytime in the near future. As a result, we cannot rely on an upturn before agreeing to look at our contracts in the hope of major improvements to our pay. So what’s in it for us now? Why shouldn’t we simply refuse to talk to the DH and NHS Employers?

The simple answer is that our current contract is far from perfect. The banding system that was so helpful in rewarding those who worked long hours successfully drove down our working hours to safe limits. 100-hour weeks are now a thing of the past. Our banding system is not generating much benefit for trainees now we have working-time regulations. The current contract is also complex, which can make it difficult to know what you’re entitled to.

A new contract could provide an opportunity to prioritise issues that are important to us. Training, for example, is barely mentioned in the current contract. A new contract could even out the variation in our pay as we move jobs, helping provide more stability to our working lives, or refine the pay we receive for out-of-hours work. Of course another reason to talk is the simple fact that the government could impose changes upon us.

The NHS Employers scoping report gives a flavour of their thinking but the report is more than two-years-old, so we will only get a real understanding of what’s on the table if we talk. We have discussed the possibility of a new contract at the BMA many times and so we have a good idea of the issues we want to address.

But the BMA is not me, it is not the junior doctors committee: it is our members.

So we need to hear what you think. If you were in charge,  what issues would you want to address as part of a discussion on our contract? Would it be about working hours? Training? Study leave? Read the materials on the BMA website and tell us what you think.

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