NHS bosses in England and Wales plan to slash pay for hundreds of thousands of health workers next year.
And they say that if unions don’t accept the cuts, they will impose mass job losses and rip up nationally agreed terms and conditions.
Bosses want to end the national system of grading and let local managers decide what to pay workers.
They also plan to scrap yearly pay increments, bring in performance related pay and attack sick pay.
Local managers would decide which workers have “earned” a bonus. Those who upset their bosses may find their pay cut.
Pay protection would go. Only workers who can prove they have exceeded their job description each year will have a chance of holding on to their pay packets.
Even if you reach these goals there are no guarantees of better pay. Many private sector firms that use this system limit the number of staff who can qualify for a performance rise.
Bosses also want to hammer sick pay. They want to snatch some unsocial hours payments from thousands of poorly paid shift workers, including nurses and paramedics, when they are on sick leave. This could cut some workers’ pay by a third.
Employers want to stop staff being paid for the first three days of any sick leave. This will force many to work when they are unwell, putting themselves and the public at risk.
Union activists say that only the most robust response can drive the bosses back. Karen Reissmann, a nurse and Unison union activist in Bolton, says union reps in her area have rejected the proposals.
She said, “Enough is enough. Our pay has been frozen for three years as inflation has risen. We are paying more for a worse pension. We simply cannot afford another pay cut.
“If they get away with this, potentially every member of NHS staff will be re-graded,” she continued. “Every union rep needs to see this as a top priority and start explaining what is at stake to their members.”
Ian McKendrick from Oxford Health Unison agrees. He says one joint union committee in Oxfordshire has already rejected the proposals and more are set to follow.
“I recently sent out an email consultation to over 1,800 members,” he said. “The response was unanimous. Everyone is against the proposals and everyone is prepared to fight. Our stewards met last week and we all agreed to reject.”
A consultation of workers in the Unite union on the plans is due to end on Friday of next week. Gill George, a speech therapist and Unite activist in London, said there is “no time to lose” in building a strong vote to reject them.
“We have to get set for a fightback,” she said. “The Tories aren’t just going for NHS workers—they want to destroy the NHS itself and drag society back to the 1930s.”
Unions can stop employers’ offensive
Union activists suspect that bosses are using the financial crisis in the NHS as an excuse to drive down pay. They add that the Unison union’s retreat over fighting to defend pensions has encouraged bosses to go on the offensive.
In England, employers say that they need to be more “competitive” following the passing of the government’s Health and Social Care Act.
By scrapping Primary Care Trusts the Tories have increased the market in healthcare. They have encouraged “any willing provider” to bid to run health services. Firms with staff on low pay and poor conditions can win contracts.
Employers in south west England have already announced a consortium to break NHS workers’ Agenda for Change terms and conditions. They propose to terminate all staff contracts and re-employ workers on worse terms.
These include pay cuts of up to 5 percent, reduced holiday leave and an end to overtime for nights, weekends and bank holidays. Staff may also be forced to work longer shifts and sick pay rates could be cut.
Health bosses elsewhere are using this as a threat against all NHS unions. Unions need to move fast to show the bosses that they won’t be turned over.
Figure it out
1.4 million people work in the National Health Service—it’s the biggest employer in Europe
£20bn is the amount of “efficiency savings” the Tories want to make across the health service
£25bn less was spent on the NHS in 2011/12 than in 2010/11
Sell-offs will bleed us dry
The government has hired bankers to explore the privatisation of a firm that supplies blood plasma products to the NHS.
The Department of Health has appointed investment bank Lazard to plan the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK.
Health minister Simon Burns said a sale was necessary to ensure the unit “can successfully compete in the global market”.
Meanwhile Virgin Care has been named preferred bidder for a £130 million contract to run core NHS and social care services for children and young people in Devon.
The company will take over integrated children’s services in the south west in March 2013. It will run frontline services for three years.