In a toxic mix of insult and shambles, the Tories scrapped an expected announcement on NHS pay in England on Wednesday.
There had been clear indications beforehand that ministers would outline a new pay offer, going further than the 1 percent increase they’d proposed earlier this year.
But when health minister Helen Whately stood up in the Commons she said nothing about pay—and later admitted there still isn’t an agreed deal. Parliament goes into recess on Friday and does not return until 6 September.
There should have been a pay agreement by April, but the Tories have strung out the process. And the trade union leaders have let them.
The NHS Pay review body’s recommendations were submitted to the health secretary in early July. But they have not been revealed to workers or the health trade unions.
Labour’s shadow health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said, “Less than an hour ago there were competing briefings on what the deal was going to be.
“But it turned out to be nothing.”
Good words. But earlier this year Labour said that a 2.1 percent rise would be acceptable—that’s a pay cut.
Unions reacted angrily on Thursday. Rachel Harrison, GMB union national officer, said, “This is completely outrageous. Virtually the last day of Parliament and the government has insulted hard-working NHS workers once again by staying silent.
“NHS workers who tuned in to watch the minister will be rightly disgusted by this lack of respect.”
Diana, an east London NHS worker, told Socialist Worker, “Just as we face another wave of Covid-19, we get this insult.
“After a decade of real term cuts to pay, they can’t even make an offer, let alone concede the 15 percent rise we need.
“Every day of delay and shrinking wages means more people feel demoralised and leave. It means more people who feel real hardship.”
She added, “The unions need to go on the offensive.”
It’s time for workers and the unions to stop waiting for the Tories and organise to fight and strike.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of urgency from the union leaders.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced a £35 million industrial action fund earlier this year. But a document sent to its workplace reps last week, seen by the Nursing Notes website, underlines how unwilling its leaders are to confront the government.
“Industrial action is a last resort”, the document highlights numerous times in bold red letters.
It lays out how the RCN would hold three ballots before any action—even though the first two are not a legal requirement.
First the union would ballot on whether people accepted the offer. If it was rejected, then there would be a consultative ballot over support for some form of action.
And only if RCN members responded favourably, would there be the formal ballot under the anti-union laws.
It will take an explosion of anger from below to burst through this bureaucratic foot-dragging and lack of confidence in a fightback.
Health workers need to build in their workplaces, strengthen the networks of activists—and demand support from workers and trade unionists everywhere.