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Scottish health workers furious at union backing for 4 percent pay offer

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Issue 2750
Health workers in Edinburgh protesting for higher pay last November
Health workers in Edinburgh protesting for higher pay last November (Pic: Unison Scotland on Twitter)

Health workers in Scotland are furious that their Unison union is recommending they accept the Holyrood government’s offer of a paltry 4 percent pay rise.

Unison, the largest health service union, says it will be putting the offer to ballot among its 60,000 members in the Scottish NHS.

It will tell them it is the best that can be achieved.

“I’m shocked and really upset about this,” Linda Kerr, a mental health nurse in Glasgow, told Socialist Worker.

“For the union that I’ve paid dues to for nine years to do this is incredible.

“I’m appalled.”

Unison has spent recent months explaining that its demand for “at least” £2,000 extra a year for all NHS staff is “moderate”—especially when compared to other unions and pay campaigners seeking far more.

Now it appears that the union is prepared to settle for the equivalent of just £14 extra a week for a qualified nurse.

“I work with colleagues who regularly do between eight and 20 hours of overtime bank shifts every week,” said Linda.

Scottish NHS pay offer falls far short of justice for health workers
Scottish NHS pay offer falls far short of justice for health workers
  Read More

“That’s not so they can go on fancy holidays, it’s so they can pay the bills.

“And all the way through the pandemic hardly any of us have been able to take our breaks because so many staff have been off sick.

“That 4 percent we’ve been offered doesn’t even pay for the free extra work that has been taken from us over the last year.”


Unison’s decision to recommend acceptance of the offer in Scotland has grave implications for health workers elsewhere across Britain.

It means that if the NHS Pay Review Body recommends a similar 4 percent rise, the union will likely recommend acceptance in England, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

But not all health unions are rushing to endorse the Scottish offer.

The nurses’ RCN union has issued its members with a recommendation to reject.

It has already put aside millions of pounds while balloting into a “strike fund” and has been busy preparing for possible action.

The GMB union says it also recommends rejection. Both unions understand there is deep anger among NHS workers.

It is possible for pay to act as a lightning rod for issues such as overwork, huge staff shortages, management bullying and pandemic safety.

That’s why it is vital that activists in all unions continue to push for a 15 percent pay rise.

More pay protests, meetings and campaigns in hospitals across Britain can focus that anger.

They can be a springboard to push back at both the Tory and Scottish National Party governments—and the failing union leaders.

“This is not just a Scottish issue,” said Linda. “But what happens here will have an effect everywhere.”

She is absolutely right.

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