Any pay rise for NHS staff should be deferred until unions have agreed to discuss how the Agenda for Change contract can be further watered down to make it more affordable for cash-strapped trusts, the Department of Health has said.
It has called on the NHS pay review body, which makes recommendations annually on basic pay, to tie any wage increase to further changes to the national Agenda for Change contract, and also remuneration for doctors and dentists.
The move would mean a pay freeze during the 2014-15 financial year, which starts next April, with no guarantee of a wage rise in 2015-16.
It is little more than six months since a deal was struck by employers and unions to make some changes to Agenda for Change. However, many trusts have claimed it did not go far enough.
The DH has acted on these claims, saying unions and employers need to get back round the negotiating table and agree more changes to the contract. A basic pay increase should “be made dependent” on progress in these talks, it said.
The department said both sides would be “invited to report on progress in their evidence [to the review body] next year, effectively deferring any award” until April 2015.
In its submission to the pay review body, the DH said: “At the very simple level, employers can either pay fewer staff more, or more staff less. Increasing demand means employers need staff to improve performance and productivity.
“Careful and prudent management of the NHS pay bill is critical if we are to maintain the right number of front-line staff with the right skills,” it added. “We believe more affordable employment contracts can help deliver better care and improve job security.”
But Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison and joint chair of the NHS Staff Council, said: “What they [the DH] have done is inflammatory. They must have known how unions would react.”
As reported by Nursing Times last week, unions have told the review body that staff deserve at least a 1% pay rise, while NHS Employers has argued for a pay freeze.
Ms McAnea said: “We are not going to negotiate while a gun is held to our head for a paltry 1% pay rise – our members will not react well to that.”
She said unions had previously shown they were willing to discuss changes to terms and conditions, but the government and employers were now “trying to scare us back around the negotiating table”.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is completely unfair to say a pay increase of just 1%, following years of real-terms pay cuts, will prevent employers from recruiting more nurses and put patient safety at risk.
“To demand further changes to the national pay framework before a pay increase can even be considered is unhelpful, particularly when changes linking performance and pay have only recently been agreed and employers have barely started to implement them.”
He added: “Another year of pay freezes for frontline staff sends the message that their contribution is not valued while putting staff under even more pressure, which is bad for patient care.”
The average nurse has seen earnings increase 6.7% since 2009 but inflation has risen by at least 13% over the same period, resulting a real-terms pay cut.
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