Chancellor George Osborne’s clampdown on pay ahead of tomorrow’s national public sector strike comes amid a series of warnings over worsening staff tensions.
As reported earlier on our sister site hsj.co.uk, chancellor George Osborne has announced public sector wage rises will be capped at 1 per cent on average for two years from April 2013, while a review will consider making pay “more responsive to local labour markets”.
NHS staff belonging to the Unison, Unite and GMB unions are preparing to take part in the first national strike involving health workers since 1988.
The dispute is over the government’s plan to save money from the pension scheme by raising employee contributions, scrapping the final salary element and raising the retirement age.
But Mr Osborne used his autumn statement to reiterate his belief that the changes were “fair”, and urged workers to call off the strike.
He also brought forward a planned rise to the retirement age. It will go up to 67 in 2026, instead of between 2034 and 2036.
There are increasing fears that the ongoing tensions could further damage industrial relations and staff morale in the NHS.
Royal College of Midwives director of employment relations and development Jon Skewes said growing government “threats” could “force” the union to ballot on industrial action.
The British Medical Association announced last week it had “decided to step up preparations for a possible ballot on industrial action” to be carried out if members rejected the government’s final deal by the end of the year.
The Royal College of Nursing’s council has also said it will meet in January to discuss possible action.
In addition, NHS Employers director Dean Royles issued a warning before the day of action for trusts to ensure that arguments over the “rights and wrongs of strikes” do not “spill over and poison the workplace atmosphere”.
And trusts could face more immediate rows over how they pay striking staff, depending on how they interpret legal advice issued by NHS Employers.
The guidance advised that employers were “entitled to inform all night shift staff that they will not accept, or pay for, part shifts”. This would affect staff whose shifts overlapped with the official start of the strike at 12am on Wednesday and who opted not to complete the rest of their shift.
But Unite’s head of nursing Barrie Brown said: “If they did that [refused to pay for the part of the shift that was worked] we would have to issue a challenge”.
There is also no consensus on the extent to which staff who are not members of a balloted union and decide to join the strike are protected by employment laws, HSJ understands.
The Department of Health is expecting a fifth of staff to go on strike, meaning 5,500 operations and 12,000 diagnostic tests are likely to be cancelled.
But local intelligence on the likely impact on services is patchy; no strategic health authority has been able to provide even a rough estimate when approached by HSJ.