Unions have accused the government of “backing away” from a vote on ending the 1% public sector pay cap for healthcare staff, after a debate among MPs on the issue last night revealed cross-party support for a fair salary rise in the NHS.
Yesterday’s House of Commons debate resulted in MPs unanimously passing a Labour motion in favour of a pay increase above 1%, but was not binding on the government.
“The government saw the strength of opposition and backed away to avoid defeat”
The motion was passed without a vote after the government decided to abstain, prompting opposition MPs to suggest it would have been defeated on the issue.
During the debate, usual government allies the Democratic Unionist Party made it clear they would support the motion, making a defeat highly likely for the Conservatives if they had taken it to a vote.
The Royal College of Nursing and Unison have claimed the debate showed the government had “lost the argument on public sector pay” and had “backed away” from the vote as it knew it would lose.
The RCN urged ministers to listen to nurses who it said would continue to fight until the cap, which limits wage rises to 1%, was removed.
“The government saw the strength of opposition and backed away to avoid defeat. Despite this, the pay cap sadly remains in place. The government failed to take the opportunity to scrap it explicitly,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
“Ministers must know they’re in the wrong when even their quasi-coalition partners in the DUP have turned against them”
“Ministers must listen to tens of thousands of nurses who are campaigning on this and put in writing that the cap no longer applies to NHS staff. Nursing staff will continue fighting until there is evidence that next year’s pay body can recommend more than a 1% rise,” she added.
Unison claimed the government knew it was “in the wrong” after DUP MPs indicated they backed a rise in NHS pay. It urged the government to provide “proper pay rises” and “not drag this out a day longer”.
“This is even more evidence that the Conservatives have lost the argument on public sector pay,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
“Ministers must know they’re in the wrong when even their quasi-coalition partners in the DUP have turned against them, and backed pay rises for NHS workers,” he added.
“It’s now time for the prime minister and the chancellor to deliver those proper pay rises, and not drag this out a day longer. We’ll be keeping up the pressure on all MPs until the vote, and until all public servants get the pay rises they deserve,” he said.
On Tuesday chief secretary to the Treasury, Elizabeth Truss, announced that ministers would have “flexibility” when it came to setting pay above the current 1% cap.
It came as the government said police officers would get a 1% rise plus a 1% bonus, with prison officers getting a 1.7% rise – but both expected to be funded from existing budgets.
The news about prison officers and the police had resulted in an element of confusion, with some media reports suggesting that only those two professions were getting a pay rise, while others said it marked the start of the dismantling of the cap across the whole public sector.