A new pay deal for nurses has been drawn up by negotiators from the RCN and Unison, along with representatives of NHS Employers and the government.
It recommends a pay rise worth up to 7.99% over three years – which the negotiators claim is the best on offer within the public sector.
The deal is along the same lines as the one agreed in 2002, which gave nurses a 3.225% guaranteed rise every year for three years while Agenda for Change was being introduced.
Talk of a new multi-year deal was first mooted last August, as revealed by NT, while last year’s staged deal was still being reluctantly agreed.
The deal now on offer is complicated and uses a combination of basic pay rises and re-engineering of AfC pay bands in years two and three
to create the pay rise for the majority of nurses.
Under the new proposals, in 2008–2009 nurses and all other NHS staff on AfC pay scales will receive 2.75%. This is the amount that was recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body
in its report at the beginning of this month.
The deal then offers ‘headline awards’ of 2.4% and 2.25% as basic pay rises for the following two years, which produces a cumulative rise of 7.4%.
This, in addition to further changes to incremental points across bands 1, 2, 3, 5 and the bottom of band 6 in years two and three results in a total pay package worth up to 7.99%.
So what will this mean for nurses in bands 5 and 6?
In addition to the basic pay rises, the second year will see a restructuring of pay points in band 5 and the bottom of band 6 led by a 0.33% increase for the top point of band 5.
In the third year of the deal a pay point will also be removed from band 5, accompanied by a further restructuring of points dictated by an additional 0.33% for the top point of band 5.
This combination will further increase pay across the band and will mean nurses moving along the band will receive more money as they are promoted.
Around 25% of nurses on band 5 are currently on the top point of the band and can therefore expect to receive a substantial pay boost as a result of the deal.
But what exactly does substantial mean in real terms?
The result is that a nurse at the top of band 5 could expect to see their salary increase from £26,123 to £27,534 over the three years, while a nurse at the top of band 6 should see an increase from £32,653 to £34,189 and for the top of band 7 a rise from £38,352 to £40,157.
The deal also has some degree of flexibility built in. Over the course of the three years, the Pay Review Body will continue to collect evidence on the state of the economy and gain a mandate from the health secretary to make further recommendations.
This would mean that in the event of a prolonged period of high inflation, the PRB could recommend an improvement on the current deal.
As of February, the Retail Price Index was running at 4.1% and the Shop Price Index at 2.5%.
In addition, there are also changes that will benefit the lowest paid NHS staff. For example, the bottom point of AfC band 1 will be removed in the second year of the deal, creating an NHS minimum wage of £6.77 per hour.
In the 2011–2012 financial year the pay rise will once again be recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body.
The current deal is judged by its architects to be the best on offer in the public sector. A major point in its favour is that the government has honoured in full the 2.75% NHS Pay Review Body recommendation.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘We have always said we would only consider signing up to a three year pay deal if it was fair and offered nurses protection against future rises in inflation. We are delighted to put the RCN’s name to a proposal that does just that.
‘Given the uncertain economic climate and the government’s tough public sector pay policy, this package, worth 7.99% over three years, is better than expected and goes some way towards bridging the gap between nurses’ pay and other public sector workers.’
So what happens next? Unison and the RCN say they will assess how the deal is received at their forthcoming annual conferences and hope to hold a consultation with their members on it, which will probably take place in late April or May. If all goes to plan, this suggests nurses will see the pay rise in June.
But that remains a big ‘if’. Last year’s negotiations were stymied by the government’s decision to stage the pay award in England. This year, infighting among the health unions could prove to be the major obstacle to be overcome before nurses see an increase in their wages.
Although all of the unions have accepted the recommendations of the PRB for 2008–2009, the smaller health unions have clashed with the RCN and Unison over the multi-year deal.
The RCM has recommended that its members should not accept the deal. Dame Karlene Davis, outgoing general secretary of the college, said: ‘The RCM believes that the proposed long-term settlement for the two years after the PRB recommendation represents a potential real-terms cut in the pay of staff in the NHS.
‘We are not prepared to recommend this to our members given trends in the economy and prospects for inflation,’ she added.
Unite, which represents health visitors and other higher banded community nurses, has also refused to give the multi-year deal its backing. Barrie Brown, the organisation’s head of nursing, suggested that because tweaks to AfC dealt with lower bands, health visitors would not receive the full 8%.
Mr Brown went on to claim the deal was presented to the smaller unions as a fait accompli and that Unison and the RCN had failed to negotiate properly with them. The deal was cut in talks over the weekend of 5 and 6 April – the day after the PRB submitted its report to ministers.
‘We were assured that there would be no agreement and there would be exploratory talks,’ he told NT.
In a formal statement Unite and the RCM said they rejected the multi-year deal because of fears it would not match rises in inflation. This statement was also signed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the Society of Radiographers, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the British Orthoptic Society, the British Dietetic Association, and the Federation of Clinical Scientists.
But the chief negotiators disagree. Mike Jackson, Unison’s senior national officer, said: ‘I think that there is sour grapes from Unite about this and I am very disappointed that they have chosen to criticise both the process and the deal, which we believe is good for the NHS, including Unite members.’
Josie Irwin, RCN head of employment relations, added: ‘They are making themselves look rather silly. They are not helping their members – it is a better deal than could be expected.’
However, Mike Travis, RCN steward at Royal Liverpool Children’s NHS Trust, described 7.99% over three years as ‘disastrous’. ‘That is not going to improve people’s stadard of living,’ he said.
And indeed a snapshot poll of more than 2,000 nursingtimes.net users, carried out last week, suggests the profession as a whole is less than enthusiastic about the deal. As many as 70% of respondents said they would not be happy to accept the offer as it stands.
|What a nurse at the top of Agenda for Change band five (pay point 25) can expect to receive|
|Basic pay increase||2.75%||2.4%||2.25%|
|Pay point increase||0.33%||0.33%|
|Total salary uplift||2.75%||2.59%*|
* Includes extra uplift caused by removal of pay point in band five