The offer, revealed two weeks ago, caused a near 50/50 split among Unison members last week at the healthcare service group conference (NT News, 15 April, p8).
Mr Lewis warned that the tough economic conditions meant nurses must accept lower pay awards in the immediate future to shore up the economy. ‘In the short term, we have to function within the economic realities that we face,’ he said in a keynote speech at the conference in Manchester.
His comments echo those last year by prime minister Gordon Brown when he was attempting to impose the staged deal.
Mr Lewis went on to support the deal negotiated by the government, Unison and the RCN, which also gives extra increases to band 5 nurses. ‘The deal does recognise the fact that we must give value and status to those who work at the front line of the NHS,’ he said.
‘It has to be put as a ballot of all members, who will give it proper and serious consideration,’ he added.
Delegates had come within a few votes of rejecting the offer the previous day. An emergency motion to put the offer to members in a consultative ballot was narrowly passed on a card vote by 214,059 to 201,001.
Had the motion failed, members would have been asked to vote on a second motion proposing immediate industrial action.
A third motion, which asked for the rejection of the multi-year deal and acceptance of only the first part of the deal – the 2.75% recommended by the NHS pay review body – was also overturned.
Mr Lewis’ comments follow threats made by NHS chief executive David Nicholson in a letter to impose a worse deal if nurses reject the current offer (NT News, 5 February, p3).