Health staff put in £1.5bn of unpaid overtime every year so deserve a decent pay rise, the government will be told during protests by NHS workers.
Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff will today take part in demonstrations against a controversial decision by the coalition government not to accept a recommended 1% across the board wage rise for workers in England.
Workers will hold up two giant £1.5bn cheques made out to the government during protests outside the London headquarters of the Health Department and at the annual meeting in Liverpool of the NHS Confederation.
The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.
Unions said that by 2015-16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years.
Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every year, hard-working health service staff put in many extra hours which they don’t get paid for.
“These efforts save the government a hefty £1.5bn a year, but even though this unpaid overtime is effectively keeping the NHS going, health service employees increasingly feel that the government is taking them for granted.
“NHS staff have had their pay frozen and capped, which has placed a huge squeeze on their household finances.
“With the economy now firmly in recovery mode, health service workers might have been forgiven for thinking that the days of public sector pay restraint would be over.
“But the government has chosen to ignore the advice of the pay review body and is continuing to hold down the salaries of nurses, paramedics and other NHS workers for at least another year.
“The effects of economic recovery have yet to be felt in the pay packets of millions of NHS employees.
“Morale has never been lower, and cuts to staffing mean most are working longer - often for free. No wonder they feel so angry.
“It’s time the government gave health service workers a proper pay rise.”
The Royal College of Nursing said hundreds of nurses were expected to join protests in London today. Among the biggest events in the capital are a major gathering opposite the House of Commons outside St Thomas’ Hospital, and a large crowd on Euston Road outside University College London Hospital.
RCN London Regional Director Bernell Bussue, who was protesting at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, said: “Nursing staff in London are rightly angry that the Government have chosen to undervalue their work again this year. Many NHS staff will end up facing a four year pay freeze, at a time when the cost of living has continued to spiral upwards.
“This protest is not aimed at any individual employers – the Government’s continual holding down of NHS pay is damaging morale and contributing to recruitment difficulties.”
Jon Skewes of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said health secretary Jeremy Hunt was “denying” frontline staff the pay award recommended by the independent pay review body.
“They said it was affordable and necessary,” he said.
“He is picking a dispute with key NHS staff like midwives and tearing up their agreed pay system.
“It’s not too late to think again as they begin to consider, for the first time, taking action to protect the NHS.”
Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “We are calling on our 400,000 members working in the health service to publicly protest against the unacceptable pay offer from the government.
“Members don’t take action often or easily, but this time it feels that we have no choice.
“We want to use this day to build support for a resounding yes vote when we ballot for strike action.
“Our members in the NHS tell us they are demoralised, overworked and undervalued, and we also know that a demotivated workforce is bad for patients.
“Pay in the NHS has been effectively cut by 10% since the coalition came to power.
“Our members are among those hit hard by the state of the economy, the rise in the cost of food and fuel, coupled with housing and benefit cuts.”
Unite said it had received a “very clear mandate” from its NHS members in England to move to an industrial action ballot if the dispute remained deadlocked.
The union will hold an industrial action ballot among its Welsh members this month on the wider issue of proposals to cut terms and conditions, as well as pay.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.
“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.
“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.
“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.
“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”