Unite has become the first health union to reject proposals on the table to change nurses’ national pay and conditions, Nursing Times can reveal.
Officials at Unite, which represents over 100,000 NHS workers, are drawing up battle plans to resist the current bid by NHS Employers – on behalf of the government – to amend the national Agenda for Change pay framework.
If introduced the NHS Employers proposals would see nurses lose the right to automatic pay increments and instead have to meet “locally determined performance standards”, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
Pay increases for nurses at the top of their pay band would become lump-sum bonuses instead of being added to their salary. This could be taken away if they miss performance targets.
New starters at band 5 would also only be eligible for one incremental increase in their first year, instead of the current two, and sickness pay would be reduced to the basic salary level with no increase for unsocial hours work.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskill told Nursing Times that NHS Employers had not provided unions with evidence the plans would actually save money and the union feared the changes were “the thin end of the wedge”.
She said: “There is a lack of agreement that employers will hold the line and that these changes will be it. Senior managers are still taking home bonuses, yet we are being asked to consider cutting the terms and conditions of our members who have taken too much pain already.”
She said moving people out of Agenda for Change and onto spot salaries would create more work for HR departments and lead to wider discrimination.
Under the plans, NHS Employers wants a greater use of appraisals to assess performance. However – in reference to the limited success of the Knowledge and Skills Framework – Ms Maskell said eight years after Agenda for Change trusts still could not deliver appraisals for their staff.
She accepted unions needed to discuss some future amendments to Agenda for Change, but said Unite rejected the proposals currently on the table and that alternative ways of saving money should be looked at and negotiated upon.
“We should enter into proper negotiations with employers, and use that to see if we can reduce expenditure in NHS trusts without disproportionately impacting on staff,” she said.
The Royal College of Nursing and Unison have consulted their members on the proposals, but are yet to declare their position.
Unison deputy head of health Sara Gorton said: “Health workers have been consulted on the proposed amendments to Agenda for Change. The results are being analysed over the summer, ahead of further meetings with employers in the autumn.”
Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward for NHS Employers, said in a statement: “We very much hope a national pay agreement can be reached through the NHS staff council that is good for staff, employers and patients. This is why our proposal provides a clearer link between pay progression and performance.
“We would welcome Unite’s affirmation of the value of negotiations and the flexibility of Agenda for Change.”
The results of a joint union survey on the proposals are due to be made public in September, though the NHS staff council’s next meeting is not due till November.
Agenda for Change has been under the spotlight in recent months, as NHS trusts seek to reduce their pay bill.
A group of 19 trusts in the South West has formed a “cartel” to investigate breaking away from the national pay framework, and other regions are thought to be drawing up their own solutions.
The unions have previously stated that the South West Consortium was jeopardising national negotiations on Agenda for Change.
The RCN this week praised three trusts in the South West, which it claimed had decided not to join the consortium – the Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust, the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases Foundation Trust and South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust.
RCN South West regional director Jeannett Martin said the union would now work with the three trusts to seek ways of making savings. She said: “All members who work at these trusts should be proud and ensure that they tell senior management that they made the right choice.”