Health worker and Unison member Karen Buckley discusses the latest inadequate pay offer for health workers and the possibility of industrial action in the NHS
The government recently announced the 2022 NHS pay award. This will be backdated to April as the announcement came very late.
All NHS workers will get a flat rate of £1,400 for all bands (although those at the top of their pay bands will get a bit more, so they get a 4% rise, which is the minimum percentage rise). Those on lower pay bands will fare a bit better than those on higher bands. However, once tax, national insurance and pension contributions are deducted, the actual take home pay is much less than the headline figure.
It’s important to recognise that for all NHS workers, this is another below-inflation pay award. It comes on the back of 12 years of NHS real-term pay cuts under the Tories.
The pay award will not cover the soaring cost of living - in fact nowhere near. Inflation is at a 40-year high and is continuing to rise, CPI is currently at 9.4% and RPI is at 11.8%. For most NHS staff, the increase will pay only around one third of the predicted gas and electric bill increases. Energy bills alone (not taking account of the many other price increases) are rising even faster than expected.
There are fears that the average bill will rise to almost £5,300 by April next year. This is an increase of £4,000 since April this year before the cap was raised! It rose to £1,971 in April 2022, and latest forecasts predict a further rise to £3,628 in October, £4,538 in Jan 2023 and £5,277 in April. Oil and gas companies are making many billions in profits due to energy price increases, yet the Tory government refuses to impose any kind of cap on profits or increase taxes for energy giants and the richest which could easily pay for fair pay rises for NHS staff and others.
Sadly, the NHS pay award will not help stem the growing NHS staff shortages (currently at 110,000 unfilled vacancies) as more staff leave for better pay, lower workloads and less stress.
A number of trade unions are currently looking at balloting for industrial action around pay, such as the RCN and BMA and now including Unison, which is the biggest union in the NHS. Unison are looking at balloting members in autumn, though this could be earlier.
Unison's General Secretary Christina McAnea said,
“Wages are key to fixing the staffing shortages hampering the health service’s post-pandemic recovery. The public understands this. It’s a pity the government doesn’t. The Treasury should fund this pay award fully.
“Ministers seem intent on running down the NHS, showing scant regard for the millions of people languishing on waiting lists for tests and treatment.
“Rather than save the NHS with proper investment in staff and services, those vying to be the next Prime Minister want to keep back the cash for pre-election tax cuts.
“Fed-up staff might well now decide to take the matter into their own hands. If there is to be a dispute in the NHS, ministers will have no one to blame but themselves.”
This is a very welcome development in Unison (which has been quite ambivalent about large scale industrial action in the past), and there is a big surge in action from all parts of the union as it gears up for the pay ballot.
Hopefully, this will encourage members to step up, become pay campaign activists and generally get involved and active in their union going forward.
Large-scale industrial action on pay from NHS workers in Unison, as well as other health unions, would be very powerful and likely to get a lot of public support (especially after the huge support for NHS staff during Covid). If you’re an NHS worker, it’s crucial you join a union, get involved in your union and in the pay campaigns and importantly, vote yes for industrial action.
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