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Government hands unions ultimatum over negotiations on pay freeze


Jeremy Hunt has suggested the government would be willing to drop its call for a freeze on incremental pay progression if unions will agree other measures that “achieve the same level of savings”, according to a letter to unions and the NHS Employers organisation.

In the letter, sent to NHS staff council representatives, the health secretary reveals a desire for wider reform of contracts covering both the non-medical workforce under the Agenda for Change framework and also doctors.

The government has publicly offered unions the chance of a permanent pay rise in exchange for a freeze on incremental pay for Agenda for Change staff in 2015-16, after it rejected recommendations from the NHS Pay Review Bodies last week.

But the health secretary’s letter goes further, saying the government “would be prepared to agree other measures that would achieve the same level of savings to protect frontline staff numbers and which would reinforce the principle of progression for performance and support the development of seven day services”.

This could allow employers to open up talks on other areas including unsocial hours premia, overtime pay, sick pay or weekend working.

Mr Hunt said his “door was open” to unions agreeing alternative savings, but added that he wanted a reply by 9 April.

He said any agreement on pay, terms and conditions would need to include the British Medical Association, which has traditionally negotiated terms for doctors separately to Agenda for Change unions.

“It is incumbent on staff and employer representatives to leave no stone unturned in finding a way forward in the interests of patients,” he wrote.

He added that talks could consider “our proposal for an increment swap alongside any other options for delivering the savings needed.”

Earlier this month, the government rejected a 1% cost of living pay rise for all staff in 2014-15. Only those at the top of their pay band will receive the increase and it will be non-consolidated, meaning it is not permanent or pensionable.

Employees eligible for incremental pay increases will receive their increment but will not get the 1% cost of living rise. Ministers claim the deal, which will be repeated in 2015-16, will save £200m each year and protect frontline jobs.

In his letter, Mr Hunt said the imposed deal built on the Agenda for Change agreement made by unions in 2013, which linked incremental pay rises more closely to performance.

“I would like to hear back in three weeks by 9 April whether both sides feel it will be possible to reach an agreement that makes the same savings as the decision I announced last week, but that will enable all staff to receive a 1% consolidated pay rise over each of the next two years,” he wrote in the letter seen by Nursing Times’ sister title HSJ, but which has not been made public.

Negotiations are already underway on both junior doctor and medical consultant contracts but Agenda for Change unions reacted angrily to the pay deal last week with Unison, Unite and the GMB unions saying they would consult members over industrial action.

Christina McAnea, staff side chair of the NHS Staff Council, has previously said unions would not negotiate “while a gun is held to our head for a paltry 1% pay rise.”



Readers' comments (23)

  • I wonder how long Mr Hunt plans to continue his absurd posturing for, until it becomes clear that 1%, as the pay review body recommended, is not something that gives any realistic room for negotiation?

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  • It's outrageous enough that the pay rise for those on top of their band is only a derisory 1 percent, but to not make it pensionable is stupid and pointless. I'm sure that all of Hunt's pay rise is pensionable.

    If we are not very careful, we will lose our unsocial hours pay too which is worth thousands to each nurse that does nights and weekends. Our pay would be totally pathetic without that.

    With the pension contributions going up again, the NMC fee likely to rise to £120 and the RCN withdrawing the indemnity cover for a lot of us it feels like we are getting screwed left, right and centre.

    Also, my trust is doubling the cost of car parking from the 1st of April, so we have that to look forward to as well. How joyful!

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  • hunt...11% pay rise
    nhs staff...1% maybe

    "were all in this together"

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  • Anonymous | 27-Mar-2014 10:06 am

    wrong way round!

    I suppose one could even be gracious and split it 50:50!

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  • We need to follow the lead from the teachers. The government is morally bankrupt.

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  • Until those of you in England who returned these clowns to government waken up things wont change. You have a short memory of how Thatcher and her henchmen saw us as an easy target for all those years. Unfortunately you are now watching as they give themselves an 11% pay rise, cut the top tax tier for the richest, increase nurses pensions contributions, raise our retirement age and slash our wages in real terms.
    From the rest of the UK, thanks for nothing

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  • re peedoffnurse

    well said

    the only way forward is to get rid of these eton idiots next year...they have not got a clue about living in the real world

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  • this is what the tories have in store for our nhs

    The recent speech by the government plant in the Care Quality Commission, David Prior, has called for NHS Trusts who have fallen into financial difficulty to be taken over by European or American ‘Hospital Chains’.

    Such a move would present new opportunities to Circle Health, the first company to takeover the running of a NHS hospital and a company that is embedded into the highest areas of government influence. Not only is a former Circle employee writing the health policy for No10, but another of their former staff is health adviser to Jeremy Hunt. If you add the donations ending up in the local office of the policy unit head, then you could say No10 is now the House of Circle.

    A secret plan to hand over NHS hospitals to foreign companies was initially exposed by the transparency campaigners, Spinwatch in 2011. A Freedom of Information release unearthed communications between management consultancy firm McKinsey and the Department of Health, which revealed how over 20 NHS hospitals should be taken over by foreign firms. This process should be done with a “mindset of one at a time…because of various political constraints associated with privatisation.”

    In David Prior’s speech made at a health seminar in London last week, the former Conservative Chief Executive cited the private hospital company, Circle, who took over the running of Hitchingbrooke hospital back in 2011, as being a model that could be followed for such a process.

    This sentiment was one that was shared by fellow Conservative MP Mark Simmonds who landed his role as strategic adviser to Circle in December 2010. This new position was taken up just five months after he had finished his role as Shadow Health Secretary. The blog ‘NHS Vault’ revealed that within a report written by the Hitchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust Chief Executive's & Franchise Representatives, Simmonds visited the hospital in July 2012 and told those in attendance, “In this hospital you can change the way the NHS works, in my view for the better, you are at the frontier of the way healthcare is going to be provided in the future.”

    The support of Circle within government is also supported by their presence in the heart of government policy. Nick Seddon, is a former Head of Communications for Circle, who moved to the free market think tank Reform as deputy director. Reform are heavily funded by private healthcare, which includes private hospital groups.

    Whilst at Reform, Seddon was highly active lobbying alongside private healthcare to ensure competition remained int he Health and Social care bill. In addition, he called for an increase in private companies taking over NHS hospitals, which was part of a campaign by Reform backed by the Telegraph who helped promote Circle's model. David Cameron, who had said lobbying would be the 'next big scandal' decided to hand a healthcare lobbyist a role in the health policy unit at No10.

    This is not the only influence Circle have in the echelons of government health policy. Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt chose to hire Christina Robinson, another former Head of Communications at Circle as his special adviser.

    The direction of where health policy is going couldn’t be clearer, but it isn’t just there where Circle has representation in government policy.


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  • tinkerbell

    'The demands of the competitive market are remorseless: reduce the cost of labour; privatise everything; remove protection from working people, and maintain a pool of unemployed to discipline those lucky enough to have a job. Trade unions are to be obstructed while the wealthy are courted in the hope that they will find a pliant, flexible workforce that is easy to exploit'. - Ken Loach, journalist.

    We are that workforce.

    Ken I agree.

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  • This needs to be handled very carefully as what Hunt is really doing here is setting out the stall for regional pay, local pay, non-AFC pay and goodness knows what else.

    What Hunt proposes is a lose lose for all NHS staff so we've got a clear choice: put up or shut up!

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