UNISON and Amicus have both accepted the NHS pay package, “Agenda for Change” (AfC). UNISON members voted 3 to 1 to accept the deal, on a low (25%) turnout, while 57% of Amicus members accepted the deal and 43% rejected it on a 40% turnout.
This is a clear victory for the union leaderships, and leaves the Society of Radiographers (SoR) as the only union to reject AfC.
AfC will mean many thousands of health workers facing a pay freeze. 200,000 will face an increased working week. Promises that the deal would be “fully funded” to allow low-paid workers in the NHS to catch up look less likely. However, many NHS workers accepted that no other deal was possible and therefore voted yes, or didn’t bother to vote.
The UNISON leadership persuaded members that accepting the deal would, somehow, allow them to win further improvements to a package which even some on the left were calling “good, but not good enough”. This made it difficult to present a clear alternative in the ballot.
In Amicus the ballot result reflected widespread concern about the increase in working hours, and the possible effect of future changes on unsocial hours and on-call payments. The union leadership made no recommendation in the ballot, so it can blame the members if the deal turns out badly.
NHS activists must now dig in for a succession of battles, trying to maintain the local terms and conditions which have been given away at a national level. Local battles are likely over the interpretation of specific parts of the deal, such as the dispute brewing at North East Ambulance Service, where managers have said that regardless of their new grades, many staff will not get pay rises because the Trust “cannot afford it”.
Next winter the AfC unsocial hours package will have to be renegotiated. Union leaders insist that there will be no losers from the revised deal, but management are adamant that they must cut costs. Rank and file activists must now address the reasons for the low turnout amongst our colleagues in the AfC ballot.
By Nick Holden