The government has come under attack after confirmation that the pay of more than a million health workers is going to be frozen for two years.
Unison said the announcement was a “bitter blow” for nurses, paramedics, therapists and other NHS staff who were already facing increased pension contributions.
Low-paid workers such as cleaners, porters, healthcare assistants and cooks, earning below £21,000, will receive a rise of £250, but the union said this was “totally inadequate”.
The government said it had accepted the recommendations of Pay Review Bodies for public sector pay awards for 2011-12, published yesterday.
In line with the announcement made in last June’s budget, public sector workers covered by the bodies earning £21,000 or less will receive a pay increase of £250 for 2011-12, while those earning over £21,000 will have their pay frozen for two years, saving £3.3 billion a year by 2014-15.
Mike Jackson, Unison’s national officer, said: “The government’s decision to freeze pay is another bitter blow for hard-working NHS staff.
“The squeeze on NHS finance is already placing a heavy burden on health workers. They see jobs being cut, operations cancelled or delayed and patients suffering as a result.
“It is completely unjust for the government to make nurses, paramedics, therapists and skilled NHS staff the fall-guys for the financial crisis brought down on the country by the bankers.
“The £250 is a totally inadequate token gesture designed to salve the conscience of coalition MPs. They know that health workers did not cause the crisis, that inflation is going up and that families, already struggling with mounting debts and rising inflation, will suffer because of their decision today.”
Mr Jackson said he expected widespread anger over pay at Unison’s health conference in Liverpool next month, adding: “The job cuts, cancelled operations and longer waiting times are deeply distressing for health workers and the pay freeze is likely to be the final straw.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said freezing pay, reducing pensions and cutting jobs meant nurses were being hit “left, right and centre”.
He said: “Nurses continue to be one of the lowest paid professional groups in the public sector and a two-year pay freeze coming at the same time as the cost of living continues to go up, means that many families may end up struggling through the coming years.
“The government will need to work extremely hard to sustain the morale of nurses, many of whom are working under extreme pressure, day in, day out, to deliver care for patients.”
George Georgiou, employment relations advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said the college was “disappointed”.
He said: “We don’t consider that it takes into account the on-going plight of midwives. They are already struggling in an economic environment of continuing high inflation and forthcoming increases in national insurance contributions. This is also against a background of midwife shortages and high vacancy rates.
“Midwives are in effect being asked to take a pay cut in an attempt to remedy an economic situation in which they are victims, not the cause.”
Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “By taking tough decisions on a pay freeze, we have been able to provide a fair increase for the low paid. I am pleased the Pay Review Bodies have recommended a £250 uplift.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We welcome the report of the NHS Pay Review Body and accept its recommendations in full. They will support continuing NHS service improvements and the position of lower paid NHS staff in the face of a tough economic climate They also achieve the Government’s commitment to protect those on low incomes.”
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