The talking is seemingly now over and we have at last got a pay offer for NHS staff on the table. It’s been a long time coming and I’ve become sadly used each year to writing about the anger felt at yet another freeze or nominal inflation-chasing 1% rise.
But what to make of it all. The other week a leak suggested that Agenda for Change staff would be offered 6.5% over three years in exchange for a day’s holiday. Come the early headlines on Wednesday, the papers were still sticking with the 6.5% but the holiday claw-back had disappeared.
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Had the government side been trying to see how such a plan might go down, were the unions trying to head the idea off by giving it a public drubbing – or did both sides think that talking about losing a day off and then dropping the idea might make the final deal look sweeter to the troops?
This is all, however, in the past. As I said, and as everyone now knows, there is a deal on the table and it is for a basic pay rise of 6.5% spread across three years.
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It’s loaded up front with 3% coming in April, followed by 1.7% in the following two years and a one-off lump sum bunged in for good measure. If you’re a maths whizz like me, you’ll also have worked out that it averages out at around 2% a year across the three.
“The thinking is to persuade those with their career ahead of them to stay, but it doesn’t send a great message to those with the most experience”
So far so good – or not that good or bad, depending on your view point. But in an apparent attempt to make it all sound even better, the negotiators on both sides have been keen to highlight that by also “reforming” the Agenda for Change contract itself, they have eked out even bigger increases for some.
By getting rid of some banding overlaps and doing away with some increments altogether, for example, we are told that over half of staff are in line for something above 6.5%.
The maximum end of the scale was quoted as 29% for those on the lowest salaries, which sounds impossibly huge, especially in an “age of austerity”. But there’s the thing, they are currently not paid much so increasing that by 29% is still not very much.
Most of the more reasonable sounding increases coming on top of the 6.5% basic seem to be targeted at newly qualifieds and those nurses not that far into their career. I am basing this assumption on the fact these were the examples chosen by the Royal College of Nursing to highlight.
Those at the top of their bands or in senior roles seem set to do less well. Presumably, the thinking is to try and persuade those with most of their career ahead of them to stay, but it doesn’t send a great message to those with the most experience and in key leadership roles like ward managers
“Now it’s up to the union members themselves to decide whether they want to accept it or not”
The main problem with all this is simply that it’s all a tad complex. The ins and outs of the deal and what it means for each individual in whichever band and at whatever increment level make it especially hard to unpick.
Happily, those behind the deal have created a website – which, if you ask me, went live suspiciously quickly on Wednesday – that includes a “calculator” for staff to add their details to.
After using some magic algorithm or arithmetic engine with lots of gears, out pops what your pay rise might be. But can it be trusted? I’ve already seen a few cynics/wise heads warning people not to book holidays on the back of the calculator’s predictions.
In fact, the general response to the deal has seemingly been one of either grim acceptance or anger that it’s not higher. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall seeing anyone hanging up bunting in celebration.
Of course, if you listen to government and the unions – with the exception of the GMB – then the deal’s the best thing since sliced bread or at the very least the best bread on the table.
Union leaders have proclaimed that it was the various campaigns and protests that have lead to the “scrapping of the cap”, while health secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed it was him having a chat with the PM and the chancellor that won the day.
Both are perhaps guilty of overplaying their individual importance – negotiation takes two sides after all. However, both deserve credit, I feel, for their public and private lobbying to at least get a deal to offer.
Now it’s up to the union members themselves to decide whether they want to accept it or not, while if you work for the NHS in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you must wait for a bit longer.
Earlier this week, a union official said: “This is the best pay deal in eight years.” The comment sparked a lot of mirth on social media, but it is at least one thing we know is true.