Unison will be fighting for fair pay for NHS workers, says Christina McAnea
The response of the government in England to the pay review body means a two-year freeze in basic pay for most NHS workers due increments and a meagre 1% increase (non-consolidated in England) for the rest who are at the top of their band.
The impact of the pay freeze in England will also be felt disproportionately across the pay bands. About 40% of all staff in the NHS are at the top of their band and so the remaining 60% will get nothing, but in band 5 only one third are at the top - leaving a higher proportion suffering a pay freeze.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has deliberately misrepresented increments, calling them “automatic pay increases”. Increments in the health service have never been automatic, but certainly since last year, the link between increments and skills, and competency and performance, has been more explicit. Employers should be using annual appraisals to ensure staff are properly trained, skilled and performing to the right levels to do their jobs safely and efficiently. But let’s not forget, increments also save employers money. It means they can employ staff, in some bands, for up to eight years and pay less than the rate for the job.
‘This is about refusing to let the government run down the health service. After all, harming staff harms patients’
At the same time, staff will have seen the value of their pay go down by at least 10% over the last few years, so even a 1% increase doesn’t begin to address this gap. For nurses at the top of band 5, this increase is worth around £5 per week and for those at the top of band 1 it’s worth less than £3 per week - and that is before tax.
Unison recently published figures that showed, if NHS pay had kept pace with inflation, a nurse on band 5, with seven years’ experience, would be earning £34,000 instead of less than £28,000 and a healthcare assistant on band 3 would, after seven years, be earning £23,000 instead of their actual salary, which is just £19,000.
Ironically, at the same time, ministers are due to get an 11% pay rise, champagne sales in London restaurants are at an all time high and the five richest families in the UK have more wealth between them than the poorest 20% of the population. The words “we’re all in this together” have never sounded more hollow.
The government argues this response is necessary at a time of austerity. So are there alternatives? The government could stop the health service wasting money on expensive consultancy firms and on the privatisation of hospitals and other NHS services. They could use their collective buying power to negotiate down the huge pharmaceutical costs in the NHS. They could also end the scandal of costly private finance initiative charges, which are crippling too many hospitals.
But somehow it’s easier for them to take money from hardworking NHS staff. But this doesn’t only harm staff - it has an impact on patients too. There is hard evidence that staff who feel valued and engaged have a positive impact on patient outcomes and even mortality rates. Having a demotivated and demoralised workforce in the NHS is not good for the country’s wellbeing.
So Unison will be fighting for fair pay for NHS workers. We will be consulting our members on these proposals and on the full range of options open to us as a trade union, including industrial action. NHS workers are understandably reluctant to take any action that might impact on their patients, but this is about refusing to let the government run down the health service. After all, harming staff harms patients. Mr Hunt has been deliberately provocative with this two-year pay proposal and clearly wants to test how far he can push the NHS workforce. I feel he may have just gone too far.
Christina McAnea is head of health at Unison