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Health staff could strike over Tories’ wage insult

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Nurses are furious at their effective pay cut after MPs got an automatic 11 percent raise, reports Judith Orr
Issue 2395
Fighting for fair pay in the NHS
Fighting for fair pay in the NHS

Health unions threatened industrial action last week when the government refused to pay a promised pay rise for nurses. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it would be “unaffordable”. Less than a half of all health workers will now receive the promised 1 percent increase.

It is being treated as an “additional payment” rather than an actual pay rise. This is a further squeeze on workers, which means the increase can’t be included in pension or future percentage pay calculations. 

Even the 1 percent represents a pay cut in real terms. Inflation is running at 2 percent, even by the government’s favoured measure, the Consumer Price Index. 

Everyone who receives incremental pay, which rises annually as workers gain skills and experience, will not even receive the 1 percent. “It will effectively be a pay freeze for me,” Anne, a nurse in this category, told Socialist Worker.

Chancellor George Osborne wants to spin the story that Tory cuts and austerity have brought the economy back to recovery. 

But talk of recovery is an insult for the hundreds of thousands of NHS workers who struggle to get by on low pay. 

Christina McAnea from the Unison union said she was appalled at government boasting of recovery when they “claim that we are all feeling the benefits and then treat health workers so shoddily”.

And even the Tories’ own Office for Budget Responsibility says that what economic growth there is looks likely to slow down by next year. But talking up recovery doesn’t stop the Tories demanding that ordinary people must face cuts and austerity for years to come.


Hunt claimed that even paying the measly 1 percent rise across the board would mean sacking 6,000 nurses. Yet in Scotland health workers will receive the 1 percent, with no loss of jobs.

But why should it only be a choice between sacking workers or paying them a decent wage?

Anne described how angry fellow NHS workers are at what the government has done. “Many health workers see it as a real insult,” she said. “Jeremy Hunt is just seeing how much he can get away with.”

When the MPs were awarded an automatic pay rise last year of a whopping 11 percent in 2015 there was no talk of it being “unaffordable”.

No government ministers said that some MPs might face the sack to pay for it.  

The Unison union calculates that its average health worker member now earns 16 percent less in real terms than in 2010. Rachel Maskell of the Unite union said the pay deal was “the straw that breaks the camel’s back—a step too far”.

Unison represents more than 400,000 NHS workers, and Unite members make up a further 100,000. Action from these unions would hit the Tories hard.

Health unions have called protests on budget day, Wednesday of this week. But this needs to be just the start of a real fight against the Tory austerity that is hitting millions of workers hard.

The TUC is organising a Fair Pay Fortnight, set to start on Monday 24 March for details

Hints at new pension attack

Treasury secretary Douglas Alexander has announced that public sector pension funds have a shortfall of “£1 billion a year across the teachers’, civil service and NHS schemes.” This is despite the Tories’ assault on public sector pensions forcing workers to pay more, work longer and receive less. 

He said that the shortfall would be filled by making employers pay more into the scheme. But it is no coincidence that this announcement came alongside claims that pay rises for nurses was “unaffordable”.

The government wants to make workers feel there is no alternative to accepting pay cuts and worse pensions. 

Osborne’s cuts hit poor while richest get richer

The Tories are trying to make out that everyone has to accept they have to live on less so as to get the economy out of crisis. Deputy finance minister Danny Alexander said that “We need to continue with public sector pay restraint in order to put the nation’s finances back on a sustainable footing.” 

Yet for 20 years the rich have shown no restraint. They have got richer while the poor have become poorer. This includes during the recession.

Chancellor George Osborne made his plan clear in January, saying the “job” of cuts is “not even half done”. He went on to spell out the scale of the attack he still wanted to inflict on the working class.

“We’ve got to make more cuts. £17 billion this coming year. £20 billion next year. And over £25 billion further across the two years after. That’s more than £60 billion in total.”

Osborne wants to cut as much as £12 billion solely from the welfare budget which supports the poorest and most vulnerable. In the same speech he revealed that cuts are not driven by a need to bring down the deficit, saying, “Britain should never return to the levels of spending of the last government.”

The Tories are attacking public services and welfare because they hate anything not driven by profit—and they and their rich friends want to squeeze workers harder.

Their profit, your loss

Britain’s five richest families have more cash than the 12 million poorest

  • The duke of Westminster Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor (above)heads the richest family in Britain
  • He owns most of London’s poshest property in Mayfair and Belgravia 
  • The wealth of the richest 0.1 percent of the population has risen four times faster than the poorest 90 percent

A new report by charity Oxfam revealed the shocking figures 


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