Ministers have offered NHS trade unions a potential deal on staff pay in 2015-16 if they are prepared to negotiate further changes to contractual terms and conditions.
The offer was made by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as the government revealed its plans to impose a new two-year pay deal limiting the amount of money staff can expect to receive.
Under the plans, which have drawn angry criticism from NHS trade unions, staff eligible for incremental pay rises will receive the increase but will get no cost of living increase.
Staff at the top of their pay bands will receive a non-consolidated 1% pay rise in 2014-15, and a 2%, non-consolidated pay rise in 2015-16. These uplifts will not be added to pensions and will not continue beyond 2015-16.
In a clear attempt to force a negotiation on pay, terms and conditions, Mr Hunt said the government might re-consider consolidating the two-year pay increases in exchange for a freeze on incremental pay rises – which it claims are unaffordable.
“The government would be prepared to reconsider”
Mr Hunt said today: “The government would prefer all NHS staff to receive a consolidated 1% increase.
“This would be affordable if incremental progression was frozen for one year in 2015-16,” he said.
“If the NHS trade unions were prepared to agree to this then the government would be prepared to reconsider the position and make a consolidated award as other public sector workforces are receiving.”
He added that the government wanted a thorough review of Agenda for Change and that it may ask the NHS Pay Review Body to look at contract reform next year.
“I think the government want to have a fight with the NHS workforce”
Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison and chair of the NHS Staff Side Council, told Nursing Times’ sister magazine the government “must be mad” to think unions would enter negotiations for any significant changes to Agenda for Change or the structure that currently exists “with this kind of derisory offer”.
“They have shown complete contempt for the NHS and it is deliberately provocative.
“I think the government want to have a fight with the NHS workforce,” she said.
However, both Unison and Unite have said they will consider consulting members over the changes.
Unite issued a statement on Friday saying it would be prepared to take up Mr Hunt’s offer of talks on NHS pay, but only if they were “meaningful”.
The union, which has 100,000 members in the health service, has written to the health secretary saying it could engage in talks, while at the same time continuing to consult with its members over possible strike action over pay.
In the letter, Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “We have never met such anger at a pay announcement in the NHS”; but also noted that “dialogue is preferable to strike action”.
She added: “Whilst we will continue to follow the mandate of our members to demonstrate the strength of feeling against your actions and use industrial means to change your response to the review body recommendations, we would engage in talks should they be meaningful and with the intent of progressing the pay arrangements.”