Nurses have voted to challenge the government on any attempt it makes to scrap or undermine unsocial hours payments, following a lively debate at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference.
Concerns have been growing that the government is gearing up to attack remuneration arrangments for work done by health professionals after normal work hours and at weekends, in order to make it affordable to make the NHS a “truly seven day service”.
“These [unsocial] hours need to be compensated. Nurses do not live to work. They work to live”
The previous coalition asked the NHS Pay Review Body to look into “affordable out of hours working arrangements”, as part of wider plans to reform Agenda for Change.
In its submission to the body earlier this year, the Department of Health suggested several options for reducing unsocial hours payments in a bid to help fund “seven day services”, which would ensure affordable care at the weekends and in evenings.
But in a motion debate today RCN members spoke of the substantial contribution that such payments made to their salaries and the significant loss of earnings they would experience if they were removed or reduced.
That this meeting of RCN Congress should urge Council to challenge any proposal by the UK Government to scrap or undermine unsocial hours payments
One speaker – retired RCN representative Dougie Lockheart – claimed he knew of registrants who had not accepted band 7 promotions due to the weekday working patterns required for the job that would mean the loss of unsocial hours payments.
Nurses also pointed to the health problems associated with working unsocial, and often long, hours, which they said warranted additional pay as compensation.
“[There are] health concerns that come from working those unsocial hours – that is why we get paid them and need them”
Union members warned that if the government diluted unsocial hours payments, it could also spark a backlash from the general public who they claimed would see it as a signal the nursing profession was being devalued.
Proposing the motion, Richard Beauchamp from the RCN’s Essex branch noted recent surveys which found many nurses would refuse to work unsocial hours if the payments were decreased or withdrawn.
He said: “If the government must save money in various ways that it is looking to do, including quite legitimately to reduce expenditure on agencies, fine. But don’t let them also scrap unsocial working hours [pay].
“24/7 healthcare can be provided where unsocial hour working is rewarded with pensionable enhancements. These hours need to be compensated. Nurses do not live to work. They work to live,” he added.
“This is an attack on the loyal and faithful nursing staff that strive to care for their patients”
“This is an attack on the loyal and faithful nursing staff that strive to care for their patients,” said Graham Revie, from the RCN Stewards Commitee.
He warned the government: “Don’t dare send a message that you don’t value us because the public will send a message back.”
Nikki Williams, from the union’s North West London branch, described the payments as “modest,” but said that they make the difference for many nurses between “surviving , or having a life”.
Meanwhile, Kathy Doughty from the RCN’s Brighton branch, said: “I have heard nobody talk about the health concerns that come from working those unscial hours – that is why we get paid them and need them.”
The motion to challenge any government proposal to scrap or undermine unsocial hours payments was carried overwhelmingly, with 99.58% in favour.
- For – 99.58% (476)
- Against – 0.42% (2)
- Abstain – 0% (2)