The leader of the Trades Union Congress has urged the government to renegotiate a pay deal with NHS unions, after accusing ministers of being “insensitive” and “incompetent” towards workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was speaking to Nursing Times this morning at a picket line outside London’s St Pancras Hospital during the planned four-hour strike by NHS workers.
“It shows how out of touch, how insensitive and frankly incompetent the government has been that it’s come to this”
Ms O’Grady said there was a “real sense of injustice” among NHS workers, after the government refused the blanket 1% increase in basic pay recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body.
She said: “NHS staff feel really strongly that the independent pay review body recommended 1% – in itself not the king’s ransom, still a real pay cut – as some way to recognise NHS staff have to live and they are struggling to cope with paying the bills.
“The government overturned that recommendation and workers feel insulted and taken for granted,” she told Nursing Times.
Speaking against a background of chanting from union members, Ms O’Grady added: “You can’t go on expecting people to take real cuts in their wages, and people have a real sense of injustice when the independent pay review said it was affordable.”
She said strength of feeling was demonstrated by the fact that midwives had decided to take strike action for the first time in the Royal College of Midwives’ 133-year history and that the NHS had not had a pay strike for more than 30 years.
“It shows how out of touch, how insensitive and frankly incompetent the government has been that it’s come to this,” said the leader of the union umbrella organisation.
“It really comes to something when midwives, nurses and other dedicated healthcare professionals feel they have no other option but to take strike action,” said Ms O’Grady.
The TUC general secretary added that staff morale within the NHS was at “rock bottom” and that if the pay deal could not be renegotiated then it would cost the health service millions of pounds in agency staff to cover the shortage of staff.
“But more importantly I think most ordinary people understand the NHS runs on the dedication and professionalism of its staff and if you hit morale, that hits quality of care too,” she said.
She added: “This is a false economy – it’s unfair, unjust and all people are asking for is what the independent pay review body recommended.”
Earlier in the day, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was prepared to negotiate, but only if unions were prepared to discuss further alterations to the Agenda for Change contract.