NHS pay justice campaign continues
Unite’s NHS England members reject government’s pay award by 90 per cent as campaign of action builds
After a summer of campaigning, Unite’s redoubtable NHS members sent a clear and unequivocal message in October, that they will not accept the government’s ‘grossly inadequate’ pay offer, with 90 per cent voting to reject the government’s three per cent pay award.
Unite’s consultative ballot of health service members also highlighted that they are collectively prepared to take a stand – of the 90 per cent rejecting the offer, a total of 84 per cent said they were willing to take some form of industrial action.
The 100,000 Unite members in health are now planning for a comprehensive programme of targeted industrial action in the coming months and will be liaising with other health trade unions to coordinate pay campaign actions.
Members learned in August that the government’s derisory pay offer of just 3 per cent was being imposed in their September pay packets – including back pay from April 2021. As most NHS staff are inadequately paid, and as the pay rise was not sufficiently high enough as Unite had warned, this action left many staff after repaying tax and extra pensions costs, worse off than they were before the so-called pay rise.
£100 a month worse off
Unite leading paramedic rep, Debbie Wilkinson told Unite Policy Conference delegates in October how she is now £100 a month worse off than she was before the pay rise. Watch her moving video as she explains what that means to her.
Debbie of course is not alone. One of tens of thousands of NHS workers now facing worse financial hardship than before, the consultative ballot result comes at a time of skyrocketing living costs, with the RPI rate of inflation rising to 4.8 per cent. The NHS workforce not only faces new tax hikes on National Insurance Contributions (NICs) – with income tax and council tax rises – but other costs such as NHS car parking charges and a 12 per cent increase in energy bills.
The cost of living crisis would mean the government’s three per cent pay award would translate into a decisive pay cut, with health service workers already having suffered real terms pay cuts and freezes for the last 11 years under successive Tory governments.
In many cases, health service staff have seen their pay drop by an astonishing 19 per cent in real terms over the last decade.
‘Another pay cut’
Commenting, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Our members in the NHS in England have voted overwhelmingly to show their disdain at what is effectively another pay cut for those who cared for the dying and sick during the pandemic.
“With the cost of living soaring and tax hikes on the way, Unite is determined to ensure the government to think again and offer our NHS workers the fair and decent pay they undeniably deserve,” she added.
Unite rep and ICU nurse Dave Carr told Good Morning Britain why he and his colleagues were “gutted” by the pay announcement.
“It’s not just about pay for us personally; it’s about investing in the NHS,” he said. “Unless the NHS is invested in, unless our work is recognised and the value of what we give to society in keeping people well [is recognised], I think it’s an existential threat to our ability to carry out our core services. We’ve all worked really hard as an NHS family and it’s a real slap in the face and an insult to all of us.”
Just the facts
Waiting list low-down Recruitment and retention crisis mean vacancies are running at 90,000, as waiting lists soar to 5.4m in England. Unite is worried for patient safety
"Health workers have had years of real terms pay cuts, some of as much as 30 per cent, under this Tory government. The situation is so dire that some nurses have had to use food banks and many cleaners and porters have need two jobs to survive"
Dr Jackie Applebee, Unite DiU chair and GP
Doctors in Unite (DiU) chair and GP Dr Jackie Applebee spoke of the frustration that health service workers have felt at the government’s insulting pay offer – and how so many staff are struggling.
“The situation is so dire that some nurses have had to use food banks and many cleaners and porters have needed two jobs to survive,” she said. “Despite this, health workers stepped up and went beyond the call of duty to look after the public during the pandemic. Many are exhausted. We did this because we have a sense of vocation and don’t want to let our patients down.
“It was heart-warming to be appreciated and clapped every Thursday evening, but sickening that the likes of Boris Johnson and his ministers joined in as a cynical ploy to ride on our wave,” she added. “Their real attitude to health workers is demonstrated in the insulting pay offer. Claps don’t pay the bills; health workers need pay rises that make up for the years of pay cuts.”
Health workers fears were further confirmed following the tax hikes in Chancellor Sunak’s Budget.
On the budget
Dr Jackie Applebee commented, “A 3.8 per cent annual uplift in NHS spending has historically been the minimum required to keep the NHS at status quo but far more is needed now to redress 11 years of austerity.
“Inflation is on course to be 5 per cent so 3.8 per cent is a real terms reduction and takes no account of the toll of the pandemic.
“The NHS needs proper, sustained, above inflation investment year on year to stem the haemorrhage of health workers who are leaving, to bring NHS estate up to a consistently decent standard and to bring hospital bed numbers up to a level which compares with our European neighbours.
“In addition health is about much more than the NHS, socio-economic inequality cannot be ignored, the brutal cutting of £20 a week from Universal Credit and the removal of the pension triple lock will bake these inequalities in and adversely affect the health of the most vulnerable in society. This budget should have done much more”.
So how can Unite NHS members continue their protest? National officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe explained Unite’s next steps in its determination to defend its members’ pay and conditions. He said, “Unite’s national health committee agreed a campaign of targeted industrial action and days of protest into the winter and beyond in the continuing campaign for pay justice for NHS workers, despite the barriers and restrictions of the 2016 Trade Union Act. Our campaign has great public support. “We will be seeking to conduct these actions, where possible, with other public sector workers and sister unions who share our discontent on the appalling pay offered to this workforce,” he added. Unite’s long-standing policy has been for a pay rise of £3,000 a year or 15 per cent, whichever is greater for all health sector workers. I’m sure the thousands of workers like Debbie would agree.
Debbie describes the true value of the pay rise
"Three per cent will do very little to staunch the escalating ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis. It is estimated there are 100,000 vacancies in the health service and very little in the way of a plan to recruit the numbers needed"
Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer
Chronic staff shortages, concerns about patient safety and plunging morale at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are the key findings of a staff survey carried out by Unite the union.
Unite warned in October that the ‘shocking’ findings at the London trust, which treated Boris Johnson for coronavirus could well be mirrored across other NHS trusts in England.
Unite’s survey of 188 critical care staff (nurses and technical) found 93 per cent of staff reported understaffing in their unit every shift; 100 per cent of staff reported staff wellbeing was affected by understaffing; 98 per cent of staff said they felt understaffing made their unit unsafe.
Unite said that the issues raised by the late summer survey are still very much ‘live’ and were echoed in other departments. The union estimates that 116 qualified intensive care unit (ICU) nurses have left critical care in the last seven months and that the trust is not managing to replace them all which has led to the skill-mix being heavily diluted.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “These results are shocking and very distressing for our NHS members. They are total professionals but these chronic staff shortages mean they struggle to give the care they are dedicated to, so morale plummets.
“Alarm bells have to start ringing across government and the health service. This must be sorted ahead of the busy winter period because safe staffing is central to proper patient care.”
The union is demanding safe staffing legislation for England and Northern Ireland in line with the regulations in Scotland and Wales.
Unite warns that concerns for patient safety come amid a recruitment and retention crisis with vacancies running at an estimated 90,000, waiting lists soaring to 5.4m in England, further privatisation, and a winter where flu and Covid cases are set to be widespread.
“These findings are a damning indictment of a decade of underfunding by the Tory government which we fear will be mirrored across other trusts in England, commented Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.
“In response to our survey, the trust management has agreed to extend enhanced pay rates for nurses till January, so they are expecting the issue to last until at least then which is completely unsatisfactory.
“The government must step in to ensure effective health and care safe staffing legislation for England and Northern Ireland, following similar legislation by the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales. Ministers must also put money into the NHS urgently to return our health and social care services to pre-pandemic levels,” he added.
"Unless the NHS is invested in, unless our work is recognised and the value of what we give to society in keeping people well [is recognised], I think it’s an existential threat to our ability to carry out our core services"
Dave Carr, Unite rep and ICU nurse
Pushed over the brink
Taking the fight to the Labour Party Conference, was Unite delegate Joyce Still who has worked in the NHS for 40 years. She told the conference how she has seen first-hand exactly how vital frontline services are being decimated by the government. “I’m a trained nurse and midwife. If our NHS stood at the brink before the pandemic, it has now been pushed over the edge. Not only by Covid, but by Tory mismanagement,” she said. Still told conference that now is the time for action and NHS workers are leading the way. “It cannot be right that frontline NHS workers have seen their pay fall by 19 per cent in real terms because of Tory austerity – despite risking their lives to save ours. She said that Labour “must have the courage of its convictions,” and set out what must be done to save our NHS. “We must stand with NHS workers demanding fair pay. We must pledge to bring services back in house and we must pledge to win vital funding for frontline services,” she said. “The Labour Party built the NHS. Now it’s our task to help save it.”
On critical care
"These [Unite survey] results are shocking and very distressing for our NHS members. They are total professionals but these chronic staff shortages mean they struggle to give the care they are dedicated to, so morale plummets. “Alarm bells have to start ringing across government and the health service. This must be sorted ahead of the busy winter period because safe staffing is central to proper patient care."
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary
Stories by Amanda Campbell, Hajera Blagg, Jody Whitehill Pics by Mark Thomas