By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2847

Health workers organise to reject NHS pay deal

Union leaders are recommending acceptance, but they know there is opposition
Issue 2847
NHS workers on the march with a large sign saying "Conditions and pay, we're not going away"

The message from this march in January hasn’t gone away (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Furious health workers are piling on the pressure in their unions to reject the government’s new NHS pay offer made last week.

Ministers and union leaders’ bid to end the dispute would see most NHS staff given an extra lump sum of 6 percent of this year’s pay. That would add to the 4 percent already imposed by the government.

But because the extra money is “non-consolidated”, it will be taken away again in just a few days at the start of the new pay year in April. The offer says next year’s settlement would be an appalling 5 percent.

That means a long-standing, band 5 nurse will take home £244 less in 2023-24 than they did the year before including the lump sum. And, a nursing assistant could lose a staggering £555 a year from an already paltry salary.

Hundreds of angry health workers from all the main unions joined a Zoom meeting to oppose the offer last Friday night. Nurse and senior union activist Karen Reissmann called the event after leaders of one health union after another lined up to recommend the shoddy deal.

In the meeting, Karen congratulated everyone who had been on strike. She said their action had brought the Tories to the negotiation table after weeks when they had insisted they would not talk about pay.

Karen then set out what the deal really means using the unions’ own statistics.

She said health workers should reject the offer, and that unions should instead put the strikes back on. They should also re-ballot many more hospitals so they too can be part of the action, she argued.

Some who had joined to find out more about the proposed deal were clearly shocked once they understood the fine print, and demanded the unions announce more strikes.

An RCN picket line supervisor from the south coast of England described the lump sum being offered for this year as a “bribe”.

“You’ll get the money, but after a couple of months that’s gone,” he said. “We haven’t gone through all of these strikes for such a poor offer.”

A mental health worker chipped in, “This lump sum is to try and tie us into a bad deal. They want to take on many other groups of workers and weaken the whole movement,” she said.

“We need to call for rejection. But we also need to hold our union leadership to account for saying, ‘this is as good as it gets’. There has to be some accountability for that.”

A nurse from Birmingham in the RCN union strongly agreed. He said that there was now a well-supported petition to remove his union’s executive and negotiating team. “This is not just about NHS pay,” he said. “We’ve got to make our unions more democratic.

“This is a shit deal but the fact that the government have had to make a new offer shows our strikes are working. And, that’s what makes what our leaders have done so depressing.”

A GMB rep from Yorkshire, who works in mental health, said the decision of his union to recommend the offer made him “absolutely furious”. He said he was especially angry because the Tories are on the ropes.

“They are all over the shop, backtracking on a massive scale—that’s because of our strikes,” he said.

“This offer is not what our members want, and especially not next year’s NHS pay cut. But our leadership made their minds up to recommend it without even discussing it with senior reps.

“Let’s face it, the senior leaders of our unions are not negotiating away their own terms and conditions – it’s our pay they are selling out.”

A Unison paramedic from South Yorkshire put the case against the offer well. “We mobilised our people on the basis of an above-inflation pay rise—so this deal is shocking,” they said.

“We need a grassroots movement to reject it—like the one that kicked off the ambulance dispute 30 years ago. That’s why I’m making a petition saying the strikes should escalate and should be coordinated with other unions.

“We can push for a better deal—there’s a strong desire for this among the membership.”

The deal’s failings were further emphasised on Sunday when senior cabinet minister Oliver Dowden admitted the meagre settlement may have to be funded within the existing NHS budget. That means more staff and service cuts.

Earlier Downing Street spokespersons had denied this and said it would come from “areas of underspending”. NHS workers cannot believe any such claims. 

The sense of anger and frustration among rank and file health workers is clearly spreading some trepidation among leaders that urged its acceptance.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea took to Times Radio last Saturday, acknowledging, “It’s hard to say it’s a good deal.”

This begs a question as to why Unison leaders went to so much effort to ensure its health executive voted to recommend it.

The task for health union activists now is to turn out the biggest possible no vote in the ballots over the offer and to return to the picket lines.

  • You can see slides detailing the NHS pay offer here

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