Delegates at the Unison union health conference in Brighton this week voted by two to one for the leadership’s motion to recommend the government’s pay offer.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
Many health workers are organising to reject the shoddy deal in a Unison consultation that opened on Monday and runs until 5 June.
Amerit, a Unison member at Whittington Hospital in north London, told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity, “I’ve already voted to reject the deal. It’s not fair pay, it’s still below inflation.”
The proposed deal would give over one million health workers in England a 6.5 percent pay rise across three years. They would get 3 percent in 2018-19 and 1.7 percent in each of the following years.
The Unison leadership argued that rejecting the deal would mean going back to the 1 percent public sector pay cap.
George Barron from the health service group executive (SGE) told delegates on Tuesday, “You’re dealing with a government that wanted to take a day’s annual leave away from us.”
Barron is a member of the SGE that in February endorsed a deal that included the loss of a day’s annual leave.
After details were leaked, outrage from health workers and the public forced the government to withdraw that proposal. It showed the weakness of the Tories under the slightest pressure.
During the debate Mark Bem from Greater Manchester said, “This is not a time to think about what we should lose, this is time to imagine what we could win.
“We got this cap lifted through minimum effort, if we said this deal is not acceptable and 200,000 turned up outside parliament, the Tories would cave.”
Jordan Rivera from Homerton University hospital said, “It’s really good that the public sector pay cap has been broken, but we can do better. At the end of the three years, we will still be worse off.”
The union’s official pay calculator combined the national pay rise and pay increases health workers get by moving up pay increments.
Each pay band is subdivided into increments that workers automatically progress up.
Jordan added, “It’s misleading for the pay rise figure to include the increments, we’ve always argued that they’re separate.”
The new deal brings in productivity-linked pay through the back door.
Karen Buckley from Greater Manchester Mental Health branch spoke against the motion, arguing performance targets “put workers under a lot of pressure”.
Yet the union leaders don’t believe that health workers will fight, and are hoping for a Labour government in four years’ time.
But health workers can’t afford to just wait for Labour—and given a serious lead they would fight now.
Roseann, a midwife from Wiltshire, spoke at a 180?strong Unison Action meeting called to reject the deal on Monday night.
“In 2014 my profession went on strike for the first time in its history,” she said from the floor.
“When you have real leadership, we will be prepared to go out on strike.”
Unison activists now have to build for a big reject vote and a ballot for strikes.