Anger continued this week over the three-year below-inflation pay deal negotiated by Unison. The deal affects more than one million workers in the NHS and it dominated last week’s meeting of the union’s health executive.
Unison leaders hotly contested the idea that the second and third years of the deal should be reopened in light of the current high level of inflation.
They argued that with a background of rising unemployment and with inflation predicted to fall next year, there would be little sympathy for striking health workers.
Others on the executive attacked that notion and pointed to the widespread disappointment with the deal among Unison members.
After discussion it was agreed to reiterate Unison’s earlier position that it would ballot its members for industrial action – if the pay review bodies that set NHS pay agree to reopen the deal. But the government insist that they will not.
A second discussion centred on whether the health executive should support members of the Unite union in the health service who have voted to reject the pay deal and are set to take industrial action early next year.
Karen Jennings, Unison’s head of health, was scathing of the Unite union, calling their decision to strike a “paper clip exercise”.
However, many members of the executive seemed uncomfortable with this attitude and an amendment that sought to ensure that Unison members did not undermine Unite’s strike by doing their colleagues’ work was passed by 14 votes to 11.
Disappointingly, the final vote on the amended motion was defeated by 13 votes to 12.
The growing tensions on the health executive over the issue of pay reflect a widespread feeling among NHS staff that we have borne the brunt of the government’s attempts to hold down its wages bill for far too long. Successful attempts to reopen the pay deal in 2009 can be part of turning the tide.