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Now unions must step up fight for NHS pay rise

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Issue 2742
Health workers took to the streets last year to demand a pay rise
Health workers took to the streets last year to demand a pay rise (Pic: Dave Gilchrist)

How long will NHS ­workers have to wait for their long ­overdue pay rise?

An awful three-year deal agreed by most health unions in 2018 comes to an end this April.

At the time it was trumpeted as offering NHS staff raises of between 6.5 percent and 29 percent.

But in reality most got below the rate of inflation, especially after incremental “pay progression” increases were excluded.

Jess Bamford, a nurse from South Wales, told a Nurses United online pay rally last week that Covid-19 had been a tipping point for many health workers.

“It’s time we took action,” she said. “We are demanding a 15 percent pay rise for all NHS workers—and we need to spread the word to all our colleagues.”

But the GMB union last week warned that pay negotiations had started slowly.

The pay review body, which recommends health workers’ pay awards to the government,has only just finished receiving evidence from unions and employers.


It will then take further submissions until 21 March, in order to make a recommendation in May— already a month past the new pay year.

Nurse Karen Reissmann sits on the national and health executives of the NHS’s biggest union, Unison.

Health workers’ lives put in danger by official PPE guidelines, study shows
Health workers’ lives put in danger by official PPE guidelines, study shows
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“Unison says it wants a £2,000 pay rise for all health workers, which sounds good.

“But If you’ve been doing the job for a few years, and are at the top of your band, our pay claim works out at just 6 percent increase for most band 5 nurses,” she told Socialist Worker.

“That’s nothing when you consider we’ve had a 20 percent real terms pay cut over the last decade.”

Unison is trying to pose as the “moderates” in the pay battle, says Karen.

The nurses’ RCN union is demanding 12.5 percent, while the GMB and Unite unions want the 15 percent more strident campaigners are insisting on.

Health workers from all unions say low pay is fuelling a huge recruitment crisis and that ­Covid-19 has pushed health workers to the limit.

“We have wards being run by newly qualified nurses who are being overstretched and can’t fall back on experience to help  get themselves through,” said Karen.

“And we’ve got exhausted staff who simply can’t carry on like this. Wards are so full that before a patient is discharged, the next one is sat on a chair in the ward waiting for their bed.

“That feeling that you cannot deliver the best care breaks people,” she said.

“Some hospitals in the north west of England say that up to 27 percent of staff are currently off sick.

“When you take into account that we’re already short of 40,000 nurses, that means those still ­working are doing the jobs of four or five other staff.

“It just can’t go on like this.”


With the unions stuck in the slow lane, it’s vital that health workers come together to increase the pressure for a decent pay offer.

The TUC union federation has called an online rally on 2 March.

It will demand no return to austerity.

And the People Before Profit group will be holding a day of action on budget day, 3 March.

Health workers should start ­planning events where they can direct their anger over pay and overwork.

Strike planned after rep victimised

Workers at Shrewsbury Colleges Group plan to strike on Wednesday of next week to defend victimised NEU union rep John Boken.

John was suspended after raising complaints about racism in the college.

His victimisation is one of several targeting NEU union members.

At an online solidarity rally last week, John explained how he had reported racist comments by a staff member after a student alerted him to them. “I am a victimised rep because I reported racism,” he said.

John said he was then subjected to “intimidation” and eventually accused of gross misconduct “for not filling out some paperwork correctly”.

Daniel Kebede, senior vice president of the NEU, told the meeting that it is “an absolute disgrace that reps are being victimised”.

And he said there “should be strikes to defend reps”.

“It’s my position that there should be a strike until John is back where he belongs,” said Daniel. “That’s exactly the direction we should be going in to defend our reps.”

Kirstie Paton, a victimised NEU rep at The John Roan school in Greenwich, south east London, also spoke. She faces disciplinary proceedings after criticising the academy trust that runs the school and helping to lead a series of strikes.

Kirstie told the meeting that a “growing number” of workers are being victimised.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” she said. “It may be John today, it may be me today, but tomorrow it could be anyone.”

Send messages of support for John to[email protected]Sign the petition to defend Kirstie at

School workers will walk out over safety

NEU union members at Birmingham’s Langley School were set to strike next week over coronavirus health and safety concerns.

Workers at Barrow Hedges school are resisting the school’s decision not to allow staff to work at home if their own child has to isolate due to a virus outbreak when schools fully reopen.

One worker said it meant a choice of “leave my child at home alone or not pay rent” according to NEU regional officer Glenn Kelly.

The first walkouts were set to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Send messages of support to Langley School at [email protected]and to Barrow Hedges at [email protected]

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