Health service employers have insisted they do not want to rip up the Agenda for Change contract, but instead want to “reform and update” it.
It is only two years since a deal was agreed to make changes to the contract, including arrangements for sick pay, preceptorship payments and pay progression for senior nurses.
But since then ministers and managers have repeatedly stated a desire to water down further parts of Agenda for Change.
As part of the latest 1% pay deal with the government, unions agreed earlier this month to fresh talks on possible changes to terms and conditions in the contract.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, noted that changes to unsocial hours payments, worth £1.8bn, “was one part of the conversation”.
“Unsocial hours are a priority area for us, but that’s not the only conversation we want to have”
But he claimed he was not seeking a total renegotiation of the deal. “We are agreeing a timetable with unions for talks and we see a commitment on their part to have those discussions,” he said in an interview with Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.
“We have always wanted a rounded conversation about the contract,” he said. “Unsocial hours are a priority area for us, but that’s not the only conversation we want to have.
“This is about taking a pay system that is 12-15 years old and updating it and reforming it. I don’t think that is an unreasonable conversation for us or the unions to want to have,” he added.
Mr Mortimer rejected the suggestion employers had failed to properly implement past deals, arguing it was often due to a failure to achieve agreement locally between trusts and trade unions.
On pay increments for Agenda for Change staff, one of the main targets of the government’s dispute with unions, Mr Mortimer hinted that he was confident there was room for discussion on the issue.
“The idea that we aren’t able to have a mature conversation about how increments can be changed or made part of the pay deal isn’t consistent with what’s happened over the years,” he said.
Mr Mortimer also used the interview to highlight concerns over what he called “the perception of fairness” in widening differences between doctors and the more than one million NHS staff covered by Agenda for Change.
As part of the new pay deal, it was agreed to cap the maximum amount of salary used to calculate redundancy at £80,000 with a minimum floor of £23,000 to help the lower paid.
As a result, employers can also no longer make “top-up” payments for those made redundant over the age of 50 and who choose to retire early.
However, the British Medical Association said the cap does not apply to its members, as doctors were not covered by Agenda for Change.
Mr Mortimer said: “Employers aren’t happy that doctors are in a different place in terms of cost of living and redundancy than other staff. The largest group of highest paid staff have the most generous redundancy entitlements.”
He also noted that doctors were continuing to receive pay rises and increment progression, while Agenda for Change unions had agreed to concessions.
Mr Mortimer, who recently joined NHS Employers from Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, said: “It’s about some equality of approach across the workforce.”