The Scottish government’s offer to increase NHS pay by 4 percent has been met with fury by many health workers.
“It’s a complete and utter insult,” says Pauline Brady, a recently qualified mental health nurse from the West of Scotland.
“I’ve done the sums, and this offer works out as an extra £14 a week for me,” she told Socialist Worker. “That doesn’t even cover the increases in my household bills.”
“And it certainly doesn’t compensate me for the four years of training I’ve just completed.”
Pauline says that the offer is a “split deal” meaning that workers in different pay bands will get different rates of increase – and that feels like a “divide and rule tactic”.
So far, Scottish health workers have mixed feelings about how to respond.
“Some people are simply saying, ‘jog on’, this award is just part of a political game before the coming Scottish elections. And, lots of people say they are still prepared to strike,” says Pauline, who is also a rep for the GMB union.
“But there is a hesitancy among some nurses. We’re often told we should be grateful for doing the job we love—and that we do it because we care. It’s true we care, but we’ve got to make a living too.”
The offer, though substantially higher than the 1 percent suggested by Boris Johnson’s government for English NHS workers, comes nowhere near meeting the unions’ pay claim.
The biggest health union, Unison, is looking for a rise of “at least” £2,000 a year across the board, while the nurses’ RCN union wants 12.5 percent. The GMB and Unite unions and many grassroots campaigners for NHS pay are demanding 15 percent.
So it is likely that union leaders will formally reject the offer.
But it is also possible that some unions will put the deal out to ballot among the membership without a recommendation.
Some union leaders are enthusiastic about the Scottish offer. Unison head of health Sara Gorton said, "This shows where there’s a political will there’s most definitely a way.
“Valuing health staff and investing in the NHS is a political choice. One that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are choosing not to make.
“The Westminster government should learn from the approach being adopted north of the border on NHS pay and be shamed into following the Scottish example.”
That strongly suggests that the Scottish government offer is the best that can be got.
But that is nonsense. The mood to strike for decent pay has spread across the whole of the NHS with most health workers clear that the only way to solve the staffing crisis, and improve patient care, is to substantially raise pay.
The Scottish government’s offer comes nowhere near offsetting the two decades of pay losses.
Even the threat of strikes could force them to make a much more serious offer.
“Don’t listen to those who say this offer is all we can get,” says Pauline. “We are worth far more than this, but if we don’t fight, we’ll never know how much more we could get.”