UCLH RCN picket line UCLH RCN picket line. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Elly Badcock dismantles the government’s shoddy deal for NHS workers and the sell-out by union leaderships

The past few weeks have seen the largest series of co-ordinated strikes in NHS history from nurses, physiotherapists, junior doctors, and ambulance workers. After this incredible show of strength, with workers demanding an inflation-busting pay rise, Health Secretary Steve Barclay and the NHS trade unions have made a frankly insulting offer to hundreds of thousands of NHS employees.

The proposal, which all staff in health unions will be balloted on, includes the following derisory offers:

1) A one-off, non-consolidated ‘Covid recovery bonus’ of 6%

Because this bonus is based on a percentage of an employee’s salary, it means the lowest-paid NHS workers will receive the least money. It equates to about £1,500 for the lowest-paid staff, yet senior managers on higher pay bands will receive nearly £4,000. This bonus will be subject to taxation, further reducing the amount workers will actually take home.

This is clearly designed to tempt workers into accepting the offer; for the lowest-paid NHS workers, having an extra £1,500-£2,000 in their pocket right now means they don’t have to choose between eating and heating for a few months. In the long term, it’s a meaningless amount of money that will need to be quickly spent on essentials and simply kicks the problem of inadequate salaries down the road for a few months. It’s manipulative and appealing to a growing sense of panic about being able to afford the basic necessities.

2) A consolidated pay rise of 5% for 2023/24

The government have portrayed this offer of 5% as very reasonable; and in other circumstances, it could be. But there are two key points to bear in mind with this offer.

Firstly, the rate of inflation is currently around 9% CPI and 13% RPI. This means that even if we included the Covid bonus, a 5% offer would still be below inflation. In effect, the Government would be offering a 4% pay cut relative to inflation. 

Secondly, and even more galling, it is a 5% increase on our basic salaries only – because the 6% covid bonus is non-consolidated, it’s not counted when calculating basic salaries.

This means that in 2023/24, our pay will be less in real monetary terms than it was this year. A nurse at the top of Band 5 (the entry level pay band for nurses) will take home £34,943 this year including the 6% Covid bonus. But in 2023/24, they will take home £34,581 – less money in real terms than this year.

A sell-out from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

The RCN have, quite unbelievably, recommended that members accept this paltry offer from the Government. In part, this is because they have negotiated with the government that nurses will no longer be covered by Agenda for Change, the long-standing pay agreement for all NHS workers except doctors and dentists.

Agenda for Change means that health unions work together in collective bargaining agreements with the government – understanding that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that there is no use winning pay rises for health care professionals without winning them for the support workers, porters, cleaners and drivers that keep the NHS running.

This deal would see nurses negotiate their pay separately with the government, adding to an already existing two-tier system. Dividing our unity also means dividing our strength; piecemeal agreements with nurses, doctors and dentists will allow the government to spend far less on pay awards whilst still outwardly appearing to fund the NHS.

But the NHS runs on the strength of every single worker. Any clinician will tell you it’s impossible to run a clinic without administrative staff to book in appointments, drivers to transport the most vulnerable patients to hospital, cleaners to ensure a infection-free environment, and porters to transport patients for scans and tests. An injury to one of us is an injury to all, and compromises safe patient care.

This is not to say that other unions have responded well. Unison immediately emailed all health members recommending they accept this insulting offer, saying,

“We are in no doubt that if it is not accepted, the government will take this offer off the table and the pay award NHS staff receive will be much worse.”

GMB and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists are similarly recommending their members accept the offer.

Unite have not made a recommendation to their members, with General Secretary Sharon Graham stating:

“The offer from government is not one that Unite can recommend to our members, but ultimately it is important that our members make the final decision. Unite will support members in whichever decision they now make.”

It is clear that the fight for fair and decent NHS pay will not be won from the top of the unions, around the negotiating table. The only reason negotiations began was because of the incredible power of hundreds of thousands of workers, taking strike action and taking to the streets to demand the pay they deserve.

To back out now and accept an offer which leaves employees worse off in real monetary terms would be an insult to the resolve and dedication of staff that have taken and are ready to take industrial action. There is an urgent need for rank-and-file staff members to organise, and campaign to reject this absolute slap-in-the-face of a pay offer.

Every NHS union member can do these three things to help:

  1. Vote reject on this pay offer when consulted by your relevant union.
  2. Ask your colleagues to do the same.
  3. Pass a motion in your branch in support of the upcoming rank-and-file conference on 10 June and attend to meet other NHS workers ready to carry on the fight, regardless of what their union leadership says.

An injury to one is an injury to all – and we must be ready to carry on fighting to ensure every single NHS worker gets the pay deal they deserve.

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