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RCN leaders face criticism over ‘positive’ budget response

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Royal College of Nursing campaigners have written an open letter to the union’s leaders, criticising them for their “underwhelming” response to the chancellor’s comments on nurse pay last week.

Three RCN members, some of whom were at the forefront of pay protests earlier this year, have said the union was too positive in its comments in the wake of the budget on 22 November.

“RCN leaders are prematurely celebrating a victory that we are yet to have”

Open letter

They argue that the RCN must be more “militant” and have called on others to sign their letter asking for the college’s leadership to consider industrial action as its “only response to this budget”.

Those behind the letter (see bottom) are Brian Bostock, vice chair of RCN South East of England, Daniel Langley, from the RCN Inner South East London Branch, and Danielle Tiplady, the RCN Inner North East London Branch’s recruitment officer and an outspoken supporter of the “scrap the cap” campaign.

In his budget speech, chancellor Philip Hammond said he would give “additional funding” to provide nurses with a salary rise, following the completion of the current pay review process.

He told the Commons that he would fund a pay rise for nurses outside of the normal NHS budget if it was recommended next year by the independent NHS pay review body.

The speech opens the way for nursing staff to receive a pay rise above 1% for the first time in years, depending on what the pay review body recommends after it considers submissions from all sides.

But Mr Hammond also indicated that any rise would also be dependent on successful negotiations on updates to the Agenda for Change contract by the government, NHS Employers and unions.

“This is the RCN and other union’s chance to strike whilst the iron is hot”

Open letter

Both sides are understood to have already been discussing potential changes to the contract, including increment pay points and pay bands, with talks ongoing since the industrial action in 2014.

However, the discussions had stalled due the previous absence of an offer of any new money for pay increases above 1% – a barrier that has now seemingly been lifted, though negotiations may falter again over cuts to weekend pay or reductions in sick pay.

The RCN, along with other unions, responded by largely welcoming the chancellor’s commitment to provide extra money for NHS staff pay rises, but with a warning that they must be “meaningful”.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “The chancellor has clearly listened to the tens of thousands of nursing staff who’ve been campaigning for fair pay.”

But she stated that, while “promising” the NHS additional money for nursing pay was “welcome”, Mr Hammond must give the pay review body “the freedom to recommend a meaningful pay rise”.

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On the potential contract reform, she also warned that “with more talk of reform and productivity, Hammond runs the risk of insulting nurses who regularly stay at work unpaid after 12-hour shifts”.

But, in their letter, the three union activists said they were “dismayed and underwhelmed at the response of the RCN leadership” to the autumn budget.

“The RCN has somehow conjured up positivity,” they said. “The RCN leaders are prematurely celebrating a victory that we are yet to have.”

They said they were “astonished” that the RCN had claimed in its response that campaigning over the summer by its members had been recogised by the government’s pledge to give a pay rise.

“We do not see that there was this recognition in Mr Hammond’s statement,” they said, arguing that the chancellor had given “a vague pledge that commits to precisely nothing”.

The authors of the letter highlighted that the chancellor had so far “declined to put a figure on any increase in nursing pay” and warned that nurses could not wait until April without a rise above 1%.

They also said they needed “reassurance” that the pay review body was “truly independent” of ministerial control, following seven years of it complying with their wishes or being ignored.

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But they added: “We all are of the view that whatever is offered will be inadequate and will not address the historic underfunding of our NHS in general and the dedicated workers in particular.”

They called on the RCN leadership to “hold an extraordinary executive meeting to discuss industrial action as the only response to this budget”, arguing that a survey this year showed member support.

“We were informed during our indicative ballot and during congress that we wouldn’t take this lying down: this is the RCN and other union’s chance to strike whilst the iron is hot,” they stated.

The activists also questioned what the government hoped to achieve through its “pay structure modernisation talks” on the Agenda for Change contract and called for “transparency” for staff.

“The RCN will not accept the government’s productivity argument as a condition of a pay rise”

RCN spokesman

Citing the junior doctor dispute, they said: “Nurses, midwives and all other members of our health professional family should be democratically involved every step of the way, to halt any devastating cuts to key components… and not let the Department of Health walk all over us.”

They stated: “The NHS is haemorrhaging nurses at an alarming rate, with 40,000 missing already, and following this budget that figure is only going to increase.

“The RCN cannot wait if it truly wants to be the voice of nursing, it has to be militant and it has to act now. Empty promises are not a victory,” they added.

Responding to the letter, a spokesman for the RCN said: “The first stage of our campaign is over after forcing the government to scrap the pay cap.

“The second stage is potentially more difficult, as we focus on influencing politicians and using the pay review body process, through to spring next year, to demonstrate that nursing staff deserve a pay rise,” he said.

“However, the RCN will not accept the government’s productivity argument as a condition of a pay rise and we will not support any reduction in terms and conditions,” he added.

Full text of open letter to RCN leadership:

As members of the RCN we are dismayed and underwhelmed at the response of the RCN leadership to the autumn statement on 22 November. The RCN has somehow conjured up positivity from a budget that contains nothing but fear and failure, not only for nurses and the NHS, but for the whole of society. The RCN leaders are prematurely celebrating a victory that we are yet to have.

To our astonishment, the RCN statement said that “RCN members campaigning to close the gap on nursing pay have seen their efforts recognised with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget pledge to fund a pay rise for NHS nursing staff”. However, we do not see that there was this recognition in Mr Hammond’s statement, nor were our concerns over the impact on patient care addressed.

Mr Hammond began by once again offering the hollow gratitude we often hear from the Government and particularly the front bench, before making a vague pledge that commits to precisely nothing. Mr Hammond appears woefully uninformed as he incorrectly said on the BBC that Nurses received a 3.3% pay rise last year, and at another time had claimed with no sense of irony that public sector workers are ‘overpaid’. Clearly, Mr Hammond is out of touch with front line nurses which form the vast majority of RCN members.

It seems clear to these dedicated nurses that Mr Hammond is working in tandem with Mr Hunt as they both try to avoid responsibility: Mr Hunt a man who has lied about recruitment figures, lied about the state of our NHS and snubbed nurses on several occasions, while he negotiates the “modernisation for Agenda for Change staff to improve recruitment and retention”. We would ask what modernisation means to the Government? The example of the junior doctors’ struggle over contracts is more than enough to answer that: it means dangerous, unsociable hours losses, pay cuts and attacks on working conditions. It means overworked health professionals, and flexibility at our expense.

Beyond that, this budget is going to continue the downward spiral of our NHS, when it is in dire need of funding. An analysis published in advance of the budget by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed that the NHS is facing its tightest funding squeeze since the 1950s. Given the Government have revised down growth projections and committed to further austerity it would be reasonable to expect further attacks on our service to come.

The RCN’s response ends with: “It will not be known until spring what a potential pay rise will look like”. Nurses, in need now, facing a winter of crisis generated by Government policy, cannot wait until April, when the costs of their rent, childcare, transport, bills and food are rising now, and have far outstripped pay rises over the last seven years. Moreover, we all are of the view that whatever is offered will be inadequate and will not address the historic underfunding of our NHS in general and the dedicated workers in particular.

This is a budget that declined to put a figure on any increase in nursing pay. This is a budget of a government with no future. Our job as nurses is to help and support others: not just for ourselves, we have a duty to protect society by calling out the Government on dangerous and damaging policies. Our union should be taking a leading role in this struggle.

We the undersigned call on the RCN leadership to hold an extraordinary executive meeting to discuss industrial action as the only response to this budget. We were informed during our indicative ballot and during congress that we wouldn’t take this lying down: this is the RCN and other union’s chance to strike whilst the iron is hot.

Moreover, we call for transparency in the pay structure modernisation talks for Agenda for Change staff. We saw what happened with the junior doctors: we as a union must learn from history. Nurses, midwives and all other members of our health professional family should be democratically involved every step of the way, to halt any devastating cuts to key components of said contracts, to not let the Department of Health walk all over us. Lastly, we also need reassurance that the Pay Review Body is truly independent of the treasury, without this, we cannot have any faith in the current process of pay determination for Nurses and allied health professionals.

Nurses, healthcare assistants, associate practitioners, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, midwives et al have faced seven long, hard years of struggle and we are about to enter our eighth. The NHS is haemorrhaging nurses at an alarming rate, with 40,000 missing already, and following this budget that figure is only going to increase. The RCN cannot wait if it truly wants to be the voice of nursing, it has to be militant and it has to act now.

Empty promises are not a victory. Ballot the membership for strike action, link up with other public sector workers – doctors, teachers, lecturers – and take the fight to the Government.

Signed,

Daniel Langley, RCN Inner South East London Branch.

Brian Bostock, Vice Chair RCN South East of England

Danielle Tiplady, RCN Inner North East London Branch recruitment Officer.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Unions collude with management to keep the “system” together. That is what “partnership working means”. The partnership relationship is more important than the people affected by it. If I got paid what they do maybe I wouldn’t worry about nurses and HCA pay either.

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