On 24 March the Scottish Government announced a pay offer of 4% for NHS workers.
Staff on the lowest Agenda for Change pay point would get a 5.4% increase. The pay rise would be backdated to last December. And it would come on top of the £500 "thank you" payment already made by the Scottish Government.
As the Scottish Government press release inevitably pointed out, the pay offer was much better than the pay rise of 1% proposed by the Tories to the Pay Review Body for NHS workers in England.
But the offer is nowhere near the Unite and GMB pay claim for 15% (or £3,000, whichever is the higher), the RCN pay claim for 12.5%, or even the UNISON claim for a flat-rate increase of £2,000.
Unite responded to the pay offer by announcing that it would ballot its members on the offer – without making a recommendation as to whether to vote for or against.
Unison has announced that it will be consulting its members on the offer, which must mean holding a ballot. The RCN is currently “considering the next steps” but has asked its members to check that their contact details are up-to-date – which likewise indicates preparations for a ballot.
The GMB has made no response to date, other than a tweet by Scottish Regional Secretary (and General Secretary candidate) Gary Smith: “As always, it’s up to our members to decide whether any offer is acceptable.”
These are pitiful responses from the main unions in the NHS. 4% is nowhere near 15%. NHS union activists across all unions are asking: Where’s the other 11%?
The Scottish Government pay offer is so far removed from 15% that it should not even be put out to ballot.
If, as is the case, it were to be put out to ballot, then it should be accompanied by a strong recommendation to vote against, with the campaign to reject the offer commencing the moment it was announced.
Putting the offer out to ballot, especially in the absence of a recommendation to vote "No", automatically implies that the offer might be acceptable, and thereby undermines the fight for 15% in the other nations of the UK.
NS pay is devolved to the different nations. And although the Agenda for Pay – the overarching agreement concerning pay and the pay structure – applies to all nations, not all sections of the NHS workforce are covered by it.
But the focus on the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic and the broad support at rank-and-file level across NHS unions for a pay rise of 15% (or £3,000) opened up the possibility of a UK-wide campaign and UK-wide strike action in support of 15%.
The tame response of the unions to the 4% pay offer now risks throwing away that opportunity.
Even worse, it is clear from the Scottish Government press release about its 4% pay offer that the unions did not push for 15% in the pay talks and agreed prior to the offer being made public to ballot their members on it:
“After positive discussions over recent weeks with NHS trade unions and NHS employers, the Scottish Government has offered a substantial pay rise for NHS Scotland Agenda for Change staff. …NHS unions will now consult their members on the offer.”
What is now needed is a co-ordinated campaign by activists in the NHS trade unions, backed up by support from other activists in their unions, to secure rejection of the offer.
And the lay union representatives involved in the pay talks must be called to account just as much as the full-timers who took part in them.