The Royal College of Nursing’s leader has said the organisation will look into concerns about the way the NHS pay deal has been communicated to its members, following claims that the union has “misrepresented” the offer.
At the union’s annual congress in Belfast on Sunday, nurses accused the RCN of explaining the proposed pay deal in a way that suggested staff could receive far higher wage rises than would be on offer to most.
“When it first came out that we were now getting a 29% rise, 50% of this country think I’m about to buy a yacht”
They said the RCN’s claim that some nurses could receive around a 25% increase in wages under the three-year deal was down to staff moving through their pay band and receiving annual wage increments, an element within the Agenda for Change pay system previously designed to reflect progression within a role.
In the past, incremental wage increases had not been included in pay deal negotiations with the government – and the union had also argued they were not to be considered pay rises, claimed nurses speaking at congress.
The proposed three-year offer includes a 6.5% pay rise for almost all nurses and other NHS staff on Agnda for Change contracts.
But the negotiations have also included reforms that mean it will take less time to move through increments within a pay band.
Health unions said this would result in some staff receiving up to a 29% rise over the period, with the RCN referring to the example of a registered nurse three years into their career – earning around £24,500 – who would be over £6,000 a year better off by 2020-21.
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Nurse and campaigner Danielle Tiplady told RCN delegates at the event: “When it first came out that we were now getting a 29% rise, 50% of this country think I’m about to buy a yacht.
“I expect this from the government but I don’t expect this from my union,” said Ms Tiplady from the RCN Inner North East London branch.
“Increments are now included as pay rises and all last year we argued they weren’t. Good luck with arguing with any future government that they are not a pay rise, because it will never wash again,” she said.
Edinburgh-based nurse Geoff Earl claimed the deal negotiated by the RCN was not based on the union’s original campaign – which had called for a 3.9% annual increase and £800 lump sum to make up for the government’s decision to hold public sector salaries down in recent years.
He also said many nurses were angry about the “misrepresentation” of the deal now on offer. In addition, he claimed that he and others had been labelled “deluded” by senior RCN staff for opposing the deal.
“We got agreement there would be an end to the pay gap. We said….we were now going to move to a 3.9% increase plus £800,” said Mr Earl.
“That was what we submitted to the pay review body and suddenly the RCN goes quiet and the next we know, it is linked to Agenda for Change – well who said that was going to happen? When were we ever consulted on that?,” he said.
“It’s not just about the deal that has angered so many of us activists – what has angered us is the misrepresentation of this deal, the way this has been sold to members,” he added, to a round of applause.
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Concerns about coercion by the RCN were also raised by nurse Christina Sosseh, who said the union had circulated information to members suggesting if they did not vote in favour of the deal, the government may return to its previous 1% cap on annual pay rises.
“I was quite concerned about some of the information…there was a sentence about if we don’t accept this we might get 1%. That sentence, which is on paperwork and emails, is coercing us into making a decision to vote for this pay award,” she added.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies later said the union would look at concerns raised during the debate on pay.
“Each individual person has translated this in their way. So we’ll need to look at what their concerns are”
When asked by Nursing Times whether the RCN accepted criticism it had misrepresented the pay deal, she said: “I don’t know, we’d have to see what that was.
“I think that is people’s perceptions and everybody has got their own right to have their own views,” said Ms Davies.
“The big thing about the debate is that it is really important people can explain to us what their concerns are so we can rectify them, talk to them to see what they’ve understood by something, or what they’ve misunderstood,” she said.
She later added: “Each individual person has translated this in their way. So we’ll need to look at what their concerns are.”
In reference to claims that senior RCN staff had accused campaigners of being “deluded”, she said the union would also “have to look at that”.