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Unions present evidence to Pay Review Body for reopening three-year pay deal talks in light of the UK recession.

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Unions have submitted their evidence in calls for the NHS Pay Review Body to reopen talks with the government on improving the three-year pay award for NHS staff, as the UK faces a recession.

In their evidence on NHS staff pay for 2008–2010, unions including the RCN and Unison warned that unless pay is increased over the next two years, the NHS will face a recruitment and retention crisis.

The latest document, seen by NT, asks the Pay Review Body to make the case to government to reopen talks to improve the three-year 7.99% pay award, agreed earlier this year (see below).

A ‘reopener clause’ in the deal means the Pay Review Body can be called in to make recommendations if the economy enters a recession.

If the government agrees, discussions will begin in the New Year, with any pay increase coming in the financial year beginning April 2009.

However, unions have warned nurses that convincing first the PRB, then the government that the deal needs improving will be tough.

Josie Irwin, RCN head of employment relations, said: ‘This is the first step in a long, rocky, challenging and tortuous journey to secure an increased pay rise for NHS staff.’

In 2008–2009, nurses received a 2.75% pay rise. Awards for the following two years were then negotiated by the RCN, Unison and the government, which proposed an extra 2.4% in 2009–2010 and 2.25% the following year.

The union Unite is to ballot health workers on industrial action this week over the three-year deal. Members will receive ballot papers today and have until 12 November to respond. Any agreed action will occur within 28 days of the ballot closing.

Main evidence submitted by unions to the Pay Review Boby

  • When the three-year deal was agreed in June 2008, inflation was running at 3% but was expected to drop to 2% by the end of the year. It has actually risen to 5.2%.

  • Nurses are leaving the profession before retirement age. In the period 2005–2006, 893 left the profession aged
    35, with 775 aged 60 leaving, according to information from the NHS Information Centre.

  • 74% of GMB members need to work overtime and 17% have a second job, with 74% unable to enjoy an active social life.

  • The RCN’s welfare service is dealing with 33 cases of severe debt and eight cases of repossession a month – a 23% increase compared with last year.

  • 72% of Unison members said they were worse off than the previous year, with 35% blaming recruitment problems at their organisation for increased workloads.

  • The Community and District Nursing Association reports that additional responsibilities for district nurses are causing heavy workloads and high stress levels. The nurses are not recommending the job as a career choice to friends and many are considering early retirement.

Union comments

  • Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: ‘The current economic crisis is compounded by the fact that we have an ageing NHS workforce and increasing numbers of students dropping out of their courses. All this points to a recruitment and retention crisis.’

  • Karen Jennings, Unison’s head of health, said: ‘Keeping down pay now will have serious consequences for the future
    of the health service. The NHS needs to be an attractive career option and that means paying workers decently.’

  • Karen Reay, national officer for health, Unite, said: ‘We are supporting the joint staff side evidence that calls for a substantial pay rise for all our hard-working and dedicated Unite members across the NHS, who are grappling with the almost daily increase in household bills.’

  • Jon Skewes, director of employment relations and development at the RCM, said: ‘Three years of pay cuts will not help the government meet its targets for more midwives, and better choice for women from maternity services. The three-year pay award from the government is inadequate given the rises in cost of living and the effects of the credit crunch on the pockets of midwives.’

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