Activists report from around the country as health workers take to the streets to demand fair pay
Around 300 health workers and supporters assembled outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House and marched to Trafalgar Square to demand a 15% pay rise.
The mood was defiant and the anger was palpable. Speaker after speaker talked about the horrendous conditions NHS workers have faced during the pandemic as a result of the government’s incompetence and ten years of austerity destroying the NHS’s ability to deal with the virus effectively.
Health and social care workers have worked double time without proper protective equipment and have put their lives at risk only to be denied fair pay. On top of that, they are having to prepare to do it all over again as the likelihood of a second wave grows.
The crowd chanted “Boris Johnson hear us shout: pay us properly or get out”. There was a staged die-in in front of the BBC and a two-minute silence in memory of the hundreds of health workers that have lost their lives in the pandemic.
Today’s protest shows very clearly that there is a growing determination among heath workers to get organised and to fight for their demands. This includes, as a number of speakers said, challenging and pressuring the union leaderships to put forward members’ demands and to act decisively.
In Manchester, a static, socially distanced protest and rally took place. A strong message was sent to the government, not just about NHS pay, but about austerity cuts and NHS underfunding - which has put enormous strain on our NHS - creeping privatisation, huge staff shortages and stress and the importance of patient care.
There were many fantastic speeches from union reps and campaigners, as well as health workers who spoke movingly of how difficult the last 6 months have been for them and their colleagues, and how the government refusing a health worker pay rise is a huge slap in the face following the weekly clapping they received. Many have been left feeling angry, exhausted and demoralised.
After ten years of pay freezes and below inflation pay rises, there are many nurses and health care workers struggling to make ends meet. This is especially so for those in the lower pay bands. NHS workers have seen their pay drop by 20% in real terms. The most recent 3 year pay deal (which ends next year) was very divisive and complex. Nearly half of workers who were at the top of their pay band got a below inflation pay rise of 6.5% (over 3 years).
The rest who were not at the top of their pay band were able to progress quicker than previously, so saw a greater pay rise. However, the government conflated the incremental rises and cost of living pay rise together, making pay rises look bigger than they are for this group.
Many, especially those on the front line, have sacrificed a great deal during the pandemic to make sure their patients continue to get the treatment and care they need. Sadly, up to 540 health care workers lost their lives in this pandemic. The government’s incompetence in securing adequate PPE has been linked to this tragedy.
Health care workers need our support. They have been there for us and we need to be there for them. It's important we get behind their pay protests.
To follow this campaign, see the social media pages for ‘NHS Workers Say NO to Public Sector pay inequality’ - a grassroots campaign set up by health workers. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Keep Our NHS Public and NHS Staff Voices are also supporting and publicising protests and actions related to this pay campaign.
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