The possibility of a nationwide strike in the NHS has taken a big step forward as health workers voted to reject the below inflation pay award they have been offered.
The health conference of the Unison union unanimously backed a motion that called for a ballot for industrial action if NHS bosses and the government refuse a rise above the retail price index (RPI). At present the RPI inflation rate is 4.8 percent.
The growing anger over pay among rank and file members, combined with the feeling that the government had snubbed the union, meant that senior union officials gave the move their full backing.
“NHS pay is a disgrace,” said Mike Jackson, Unison’s senior national negotiator. “The 2.5 percent we have been offered is well below any measure of inflation.
“And the architect of this plan is the future prime minister, Gordon Brown.
“We expect a similar pay offer to be made to non-clinical NHS staff. They represent about a third of the workforce in the health service, and are some of the lowest paid.
“Employers now have a choice. Either they come back with a better offer, or we are going to the members to ask them if they are prepared to take industrial action.”
From the conference floor, speaker after speaker talked about the anger in their workplaces. They rejected both the 2.5 percent offer and the government’s staging of the award that reduces it to 1.9 percent.
Tony Blair recently reiterated that nurses will not be offered above 1.9 percent.
Sandra-Dee Mason from the Scottish health committee said, “The Scottish Executive has said that we will not have our offer staged, but 2.5 percent is still an insult and a pay cut. We are not going to stand for it.”
Janet Maiden from the University College Hospital in London won applause as she pointed out that the demand for decent pay was part of defending the public sector.
She said, “On 1 May there will be 250,000 civil servants on strike over job losses. We are organising a protest outside my hospital over pay. We have to show these questions are linked.
“The government is undermining our pay as part of undermining our service.”
The loudest cheers in the debate went to first time delegate and newly qualified nurse Sara Craegh. “Where I work, people are really pissed-off about pay,” she told the conference.
“Here we are, busy trying to hold the NHS together despite all the cuts the government are making – and they have the cheek to offer us 2.5 percent?
“The government isn’t delivering for the NHS, so the union should stop delivering for the government – we should stop paying Labour affiliation fees.
“And if they are going to insult us with rubbish pay, then we shouldn’t be working either. Let’s get ready for strike action!”
The motion passed called on the union’s health executive to coordinate any industrial action with other public sector unions that are planning action over jobs and pay, and for health workers to join protests on 1 May.
The union leadership must keep to the strategy outlined at the conference – and activists need to start preparing for action in their workplaces.