The Government has called on NHS pay review bodies to abandon a planned 1% rise in pay for 1.3 million NHS staff.
They say that the rise — which is below inflation and conforms to the Government’s own policy of public sector pay restraint — is unaffordable. It is due to be implemented from April 2014, after two years of pay freeze and attacks on healthworkers’ pensions.
The Government’s justification for the move is part of their propaganda against public sector pay generally: they oppose the system of automatic incremental pay rises that exists in many public services. They say those rises add £900 million to pay costs in the NHS. They argue that there should only be basic pay increases if there is evidence that recruitment, retention, morale or motivation issues require them.
The independent NHS pay review bodies will make their recommendations in February or March 2014, but they could be swayed by the submissions made to them by the Department of Health.
And the threat is clearest to the healthworkers’ unions. They are being told: give way on pay structure or potentially lose this year’s planned pay increase.
The unions have protested against this bullying. Unison said: “We are not going to negotiate while a gun is held to our head for a paltry 1% pay rise — our members will not react well to that.”
Unite suggested that health secretary Jeremy Hunt was going against Treasury advice that a 1% rise was affordable.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists pointed out that NHS personnel had already faced a real-terms 12% cut in pay in recent years.
The background to these moves is the Government imposed real-terms cuts — about 4% a year — to NHS funding. If the NHS wage bill is becoming less “affordable” it is because the Tories and Lib Dems are choking off the money the service needs to thrive.
Disgracefully, the Government is also trying to pit health service users — that is, most of the population – against healthworkers, warning in its submission to the pay review bodies that the safety and quality of patient care will be reduced if staff receive any more money.
Health campaigners should refute these lies: a good quality service relies on a well-paid and motivated workforce. The interests of service users are the same as those of the staff. The real enemy to patient care is the Tory-Lib Dems and their cuts!
Healthworkers should not pay the price of bailing out the banks, and their unions must prepare to fight on this issue.
Activists in the unions will have to organise to make the health union bureaucrats organise a proper fight.