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Scottish health workers reject NHS pay offer

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Unison union members are right to reject any pay offer less than the RPI rate of inflation
Issue 2831
Picket line outside University Hospital Monklands as NHS workers in three different unions campaign for real pay rise. Workers in Unison are on the left holding purple and green 'Put NHS pay right' posters. GMB memebers are in the middle holding orang gmb union flags and Unite the union members are stood on the left holding red union flags

Workers in three NHS unions campaigning for a real pay rise last month at University Hospital Monklands (Picture: @FionaDavidson2 on Twitter)

Scottish health workers in the Unison union have voted strongly to reject the latest pay offer—despite their leaders hinting they should swallow it.

The union balloted 50,000 nurses, midwives, cleaners, porters and administrative workers on the deal and announced on Tuesday that 61 percent had thrown it out. Although there was no direct recommendation, the union said, “The Scottish government has made clear that this is their final offer. Your negotiators also think this is the best offer we will get through negotiations.”

Unison Scottish health committee chair Wilma Brown, said, “This offer is an improvement and the unions have agreed to think it through. A flat rate offer will help all staff meet at least some of the cost of living crisis.”

The union had been running an official postal strike ballot over a previous offer when the revised proposal was received from the Scottish government. It offered a flat rate pay offer of £2,205.

Union leaders suspended the strike ballot and put the offer out to consultation. They probably expected it to be accepted. But workers knew it was not enough. While moderately benefitting some of the lowest paid, it meant an enormous pay cut for many workers such as nurses and paramedics.

For some of them, the new offer was actually worse than the previous one—a paltry 5 percent rise across the board. A band seven nurse, with many years of experience, was set to see their pay rise by just 4.61 percent—around a third of the RPI inflation rate.

No wonder the nurses’ Scottish RCN union had already rejected the offer as a “kick in the teeth”. 

Pauline Brady, a mental health nurse and union activist in the west of Scotland, said the offer was “trying to turn workers against each other”. “They want nurses to look selfish and out of order for rejecting an offer that benefits some of the lowest paid,” she said.

“We all want low paid workers to get far more money. But we also want to stop the destruction of the NHS by losing so many of its skilled workers.”

Even for the lowest paid, the revised offer was far from generous. An experienced band three healthcare or nursing assistant would have seen their pay rise by around 9.3 percent. But that is still far lower than inflation.

Scottish Unison’s health committee was due to meet this week to discuss the next steps. Brown is now saying, “This should be a massive wake-up call to the Scottish government. They need to come back to the negotiating table with an improved offer or prepare themselves for the first strikes in the NHS since devolution.”

Already ambulance workers in the GMB union plan a 26-hour strike from 6am on 28 November until 7.59am the following morning.

The rejection of this deal has shown NHS workers don’t want to be fobbed off with slightly better, but still totally inadequate offers. They must make sure the union immediately restarts the strike ballot and throws everything into winning it. And they should learn that they must organise to control the dispute themselves and not rely on their union leaders

The developments in Scotland should cheer Unison NHS members in England and Wales who are balloting for strikes on a much worse offer of just a £1,400 rise. Voting continues until 25 November. 

Only hard-hitting strikes can deliver the pay deal that workers need—and defend the NHS from the effect of staff shortages and plummeting morale.

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