Socialist Worker

Jeremy Hunt plans new NHS pay attack—time for unions to take a stand

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2583

Jeremy Hunt attacked junior doctors pay as a precursor to attacks on other health workers

Jeremy Hunt attacked junior doctors' pay as a precursor to attacks on other health workers (Pic: Julie Sherry)


Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to steam roll through an assault on hundreds of thousands of NHS workers’ pay.

It is part of Tory plans to overhaul the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay structure that was brought in by Labour. It could include attacking unsocial hours’ payments, which workers get for working nights and weekends.

Hunt told the Health Service Journal that the junior doctors’ contract was a “quite sensible” model for changes. This was imposed on junior doctors as a precursor to attacks on other health workers’ pay.

These attacks include changes to pay increments.

“The biggest area that we have wanted to reform for a long time is the system of increments,” Hunt said. “In particular, payments that simply relate to time served rather than any measurable increase in professional abilities.”

The attack is partly a slight of hand to claw back Tory concessions on public sector pay.

Under growing pressure chancellor Philip Hammond said he would lift the 1 percent public sector pay cap for nurses. But he said that any pay rises for nurses would be link to “productivity agreements”, which mean forcing workers to do more for less.

Privatise

Hunt’s plans are part of a much bigger drive to further break up and privatise the health service. By pushing through the AfC reforms Hunt hopes to drive down costs and make the NHS more attractive for private companies.

Health unions have signed up to worsening pay, terms and condition, arguing that the Tories would otherwise scrap AfC altogether and bring in local pay.

The Unison union and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) cooked up a deal in 2012 that meant pay progression was based on “local performance schemes”. Sick pay was also slashed because of the agreement.

These agreements have simply paved the way for more attacks—now the unions now have to take a stand.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told delegates at Unison’s health conference in 2015 that the union would defend unsocial hours’ pay. “There will be more ballots for industrial action. If they—or anybody—come after our unsocial hours pay,” he said.

“This time we will keep the action going until they pull back.”

Activists have to hold Prentis to that—and push for action to defend pay and fight for real above-inflation pay rises.


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