Union members have now spoken, with the majority voting in favour of the pay offer that will see Agenda for Change staff receive 6.5% over three years.
Of course, the deal must still be rubber-stamped by the NHS pay review body and then finally agreed by union leaders and the government side, but that should all largely be a formality.
Looking at the certainties, most NHS staff in England will receive the 6.5% increase over the next three years, with 3% this year – arriving in July pay packets and backdated to April.
Others, especially the least well-paid, may also gain from boosts to their incremental rises due to band restructuring – though I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who gets a 29% pay rise, as suggested by some of those behind the deal.
Talks are also ongoing in other parts of the UK – though sadly not in Northern Ireland due to the ongoing lack of a devolved government – for similar long-term deals. For now, some promises have been made for this year in Scotland and are expected soon in Wales – so watch this space.
”I think there are lessons to be learnt on both sides of the negotiating table”
It has not been an easy process for the negotiators on either side; they are generally required to represent different viewpoints for those they represent but have tried to present a united front to get the deal through. The exception is the GMB, which is pondering its “next steps” after its members rejected the deal.
But before those who brokered the deal pat themselves on the back too hard, I think there are lessons to be learnt on both sides of the negotiating table, as it has been a rather messy process.
Government ministers – whatever their party – need to realise that the grinding years of pay freezes and the 1% cap that followed have done little except bring them ill will in the public sector and contributed to the workforce pressures facing the NHS.
Meanwhile, the unions need to treat their members with the respect they deserve and put the focus squarely on explaining the deal to those who pay their fees rather than the national newspapers.
Some have found themselves in an unnecessary pickle, with members criticising them for overselling the deal. In addition, there have been accusations that activists who spoke out against the offer were effectively told to keep quiet.
Turnout for the ballots also appears to have been surprisingly low for such high-profile consultation exercises that affected so many people. Unite revealed that 27% of eligible members voted, while the RCN, Unison and RCM did not answer when the question was put to them by Nursing Times.
Therefore, good-quality communication seems to have been sadly lacking somehow.
So where do we go from here? Three years is a long time, especially in politics, where we know a week is famously considered a long time. Time will no doubt tell how good a deal nurses and midwives have really received.
And where will NHS nursing staff be in three years’ time? Call me a cynic, but I suspect they’ll be desperately seeking a decent pay rise.
Let’s hope both sides have learnt their lessons and are ready and able to deliver when they return to the negotiating table in 2021.