AMBULANCE staff could take strike action over an overtime ban imposed on workers for taking time off sick.

Unite union members, who are employed by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), are being balloted about possible industrial action.

The union believes an automatic 28-day ban, introduced by the ambulance service more than two years ago, on overtime for anyone returning to work after a period of absence, is a way of punishing staff for being ill.

Gary Owen, regional officer for the north west at Unite claimed the policy has been snook in through the back door and described it as unfair and unjustified.

He said: "The first thing to clarify is this is only an indicative consultative ballot to ask members whether they'd like to proceed with a formal ballot for strike action.

"We believe the employer has snook in this policy through the back door not using the usual negotiating machinery.

"We also believe it to be arbitrary, unfair and unjustified on people who have been ill.

"It will impact on our members' ability to pay their bills and on the service itself as there will be no one to fill the gaps.

"We've proposed a shorter seven-day exclusion period for overtime but we've been ignored.

"So we feel as if we've been left with no option but to take this course of action as a last resort."

But Mike Buoey, a GMB organiser for the North West said that although it would support fellow trade union colleagues, it would not be balloting members on a strike.

He said: “This dispute has been going on for some time.

“We have found it difficult to try and get members to take action as only a proportion of them work overtime.

“Unite have raised the matter recently with the employer, who are working on ways to resolve this, including reducing the number of days on the overtime ban.

He added: “We’ll support any action from our fellow trade union colleagues but we don’t think we’ll be taking any action or balloting members on it.

“We also don’t think ambulance service employees should have work to lots of overtime.

“Instead they should be paid properly for the shift work which they do and which can be up to 50 to 60 hours a week.

“They should also get proper compensatory rest periods.”

Lisa Ward, interim director of organisational development for the ambulance service said the health and safety of its staff comes first and that discussions are underway.

She said: “Overtime is undertaken on a voluntary basis and we have to always ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of our staff comes first.

“These arrangements have been in place for some time now but we can confirm we are currently engaging with Unite and their colleague trade unions regarding their concerns,” she added.