The chancellor Gordon Brown is attempting to hold down health service pay, interfering with supposedly independent pay review bodies.
Under the Agenda for Change pay deal, two independent bodies were established.
The Pay Review Body (PRB) is responsible for recommending pay increases for clinical staff such as nurses, while the Pay Negotiation Council (PNC) covers non-clinical staff such as hospital porters.
Yunus Bakhsh sits on the Unison union body that represents health workers.
He told Socialist Worker, “The message coming from Gordon Brown seems to be that health workers can have any pay deal they like – as long as it’s 2 percent.
“We have also been told that the PNC won’t make a recommendation until the PRB does, despite the fact that, under the Agenda for Change deal, these are supposed to be independent bodies.”
The row, together with the local government pensions dispute, has soured relations between health unions and Brown, who was once seen by many union leaders as an alternative to Tony Blair.
Unison has called on the government to make public the findings of the PRB, whose report has already been delayed three times.
The Royal College of Nursing, which is demanding a 3 percent pay increase, has threatened to work to rule.
Even NHS employers conceded in their evidence to the PRB that a 2.5 percent pay increase could be afforded.
But the treasury has said that increases should be “based on our 2 percent inflation target”.
The move by Brown to limit NHS pay has implications across the public sector.
According to Alastair Hatchett, head of pay at the Income Data Services, which analyses pay, the government is frustrated at the independence of the review bodies, and has “decided to take a firmer line” on wages.
And there could be worse to come. Some NHS managers are pushing to break up national pay negotiations.
The government wants all health trusts to become independent foundation trusts with far greater independence to set their own rates of pay.
“There’s no doubt that New Labour wants to see local and regional pay, rather than national negotiation,” said Yunus Bakhsh.
“What is becoming increasingly clear is that it is impossible to square the Agenda for Change deal, based on partnership, with the government’s real agenda for the NHS.”