The proposed pay deal for the NHS in England announced by government, employers and unions at the end of last month is the result of intense and detailed talks that started after the budget last November, explains Unison’s Sara Gorton, who led the pay negotiations on behalf of unions.
The outcome busts the 1% pay policy and is unique in having a commitment of full funding – an additional £4.2bn ring-fenced for NHS pay over the next three years.
The chancellor announced last November that new money could be made available for pay in the NHS if there was also agreement on ‘productivity gains’. While this was a major breakthrough, the challenge was to minimise any potentially damaging changes.
Unions also wanted to try to achieve the structural improvements that NHS staff have been asking for, and were part of this year’s joint union pay claim.
The proposals on offer are complex. For those at the top of the band, it’s easier – 6.5% over the three years (3% from April, 1.7% from April 2019 and 1.7 % from April 2020), plus a lump sum next April worth £330 for band 5 nurses.
For those below the top, the changes wrap up annual increases with major structural reforms. These include higher starting salaries in every band, and more staff earning the full rate for the job faster. By removing pay points, the three-year deal would see 85% of existing staff reach the top of their pay bands.
“In an ideal world the 12-14% knocked off the real value of NHS pay over the last decade would have been restored”
Healthcare is about the whole team, not just individuals or one occupational group. The 1% pay policy has been most damaging to those on the lowest wages.
One of the key changes unions were able to negotiate was the real living wage, so now 100,000 staff could be lifted out of poverty pay straight away. This represents an immediate increase of 11% for the lowest paid in the NHS.
The process of taking a million people through such a big structural change is not an easy one. People can find out exactly what it means for them over the three years by using the pay calculator and looking at the framework document.
The calculator summarises the total changes from incremental progression, the deletion of pay points and the increase in pay each year.
Most other terms and conditions would remain unchanged, including annual leave. Unsocial hours payments for staff in bands 4-9 are completely unaffected by this deal and will remain the same as now.
There will be some tweaks to other band unsocial hours payments to maintain the fairness of the system, while maintaining their current cash value. There are a range of other improvements including improved apprentice pay, the buying and selling of leave and shared parental leave too.
“Our aim is to make the whole pay system fairer and the NHS a more attractive place to work for prospective staff”
In an ideal world the 12-14% knocked off the real value of NHS pay over the last decade would have been restored for all. But the proposal on offer is a negotiated settlement, so was always going to contain a mixture of what Unison wanted combined with the demands of employers, government and other unions.
The question for NHS staff is whether there’s enough in the whole package to offer something better than the alternative, which would mean relying on the NHS Pay Review Body to deliver a better award than what’s on offer, and for the government to fund it.
Getting the funding for these proposals doesn’t mean that we’re going to let ministers off the hook for their record on the NHS. Unions strive to achieve the best deal for members – whichever party is in power – and have worked hard to break the hated pay cap.
Our aim is to make the whole pay system fairer and the NHS a more attractive place to work for prospective staff. This would help ease the pressure on existing employees struggling to cope with increased demand.
Also, because the offer is funded, staff pay increases won’t come at the expense of jobs and patient care.
Critics haven’t presented a realistic way of getting a better offer on the table – and in health employees’ pockets – by the summer. The pay proposal on offer isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and a step in the right direction.
Sara Gorton is Unison’s head of health and led the pay negotiations on behalf of all the NHS unions.