Health workers were set to protest outside the Department of Health in central London this Friday.
They want their union leaders to fight for pay rises—not sign up to the Tories’ proposed shoddy deal. The protest comes on the eve of the Unison union’s health sector conference in Brighton next week.
The majority of health unions and staff organisations, including the largest, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are recommending the offer. Only the GMB is against the “jam tomorrow” deal.
Sorele, a Unison union member and newly qualified nurse, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “I would vote to reject the deal,” she said. “Personally I’m quite cross with the unions.
“I don’t think unions are fighting our corner, it almost feels like there’s some sort of collusion.”
The proposed deal would give over 1 million health workers in England a 6.5 percent pay rise across three years. They would get 3 percent in 2018-19 and 1.7 percent in each of the following years.
This is better than the 1 percent health workers have had under the Tories’ public sector pay cap. “I’m not going to lie,” said Sorele. “Any bit of extra money will be welcome, but it’s not adequate.
“I still don’t feel we’re getting what we deserve.”
With the RPI rate of inflation running at 3.6 percent, it still represents a “real terms” pay cut. And it does nothing to address the 14 percent cut nurses have suffered since the Tories got into office in 2010.
The Tories, press and union leaders have tried to spin the deal as giving health workers up to 23 percent in pay rises. This is because the official pay calculator added the 6.5 percent together with incremental pay rises.
Under the Agenda for Change (AfC) NHS pay scales each pay band is divided into increments. Until now health workers have automatically made their way up the increments until they reach the top of their band.
The two figures wouldn’t normally be added together.
And the Tories are proposing to overhaul increments that could see health workers lose out.
The deal shows the Tories’ contempt for the NHS and health workers—but union leaders could tap into anger to fight it. Sorele said, “Nurses generally are not ones for striking, but this is the first time I’ve started to hear nurses say they would consider it.
“I’m not saying there would be majority action and I can’t say how I would vote until I was in that situation.
“But I’ve definitely noticed a shift—the government can’t take it for granted that we’ll just take it anymore.”
Activists have to build for a big reject vote and push their union leaders to fight for real pay rises.
The deal would bring in productivity-linked pay through the back door.
Health workers currently automatically make their way up pay increments.
But the deal would scrap automatic increment progression. And it mandates hospital bosses “to apply a process linked to appraisals before allowing staff to progress to the next pay point”.
Sorele said, “They’re starting to talk about increments being performance related, but we’re not on a production line.
“We’ve already got appraisals to make sure we’re working the way we do.
“It’s to pull the wool over people’s eyes. We don’t deserve it. It is all about the Tory ethos of targets.”
She added, “You need a good cohesive team, but this will cause real divisions.”
It will give bosses a licence to target union activists. And because of institutional racism and sexism in the NHS, it will hit women and black health workers hardest.
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