Recent press reports have indicated a possible very bad pay deal arising from talks between NHS employers and the health unions: a 3% pay rise for this year, followed by two years of 1-2%, and losing a day’s annual leave.
With inflation running at 3% we face three years of falling pay. And the GMB estimates health workers have already had a real terms pay cut of £2,000 in last seven years. The initial reaction from many NHS workers to these reports has been complete disdain.
The deal may also include abolition of Band One (the lowest band on the pay scale). This is necessary, but in reality, with a vast increase in numbers of apprentices, outsourcing and a rush of NHS Trusts setting up subsidiary companies to employ ancillary workers, NHS employers are finding new ways to institutionalise low pay.
A couple of better points may be a reduction of increments in bands and a one-off payment for some, but the detail isn’t clear. Whether this will be enough for unions to sell the deal to health workers remains to be seen.
Last year the government said they would be prepared to fund an end to the pay freeze for health workers if further “efficiencies” were found. The NHS has already been squeezed into crisis. Any pay increase (which this deal doesn’t seem to include), must be fully funded by the government. Any unfunded increase in pay will be followed by greater workload, less support for staff and service cuts.
The shortage of workers, made words by Brexit, is a fundamental part of the current NHS crisis. Health Education England figures show that the number of staff leaving the NHS reached 16% last year. The NHS is short of 42,000 nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. 15% of nursing posts in London and a third of paramedic posts across the country are vacant.
Health unions may promote this deal as better than we’ve had. Workers are already organising online, with a petition against the cut to annual leave reaching 10,000 signatures in two days. We need to take this organising into our union branches.
Last year the health unions said to NHS employers that they wanted their members to receive a 3.9% pay rise in 2018-19 plus a further £800-a-head payment, to help make up for the fall in the real value of salaries since 2010.
Any deal should be measured against that, with no acceptance of eroding our much-needed leave. Any campaign on pay must be tied into the growing fight for the future of the NHS.