Today we can say with absolute certainty that the government’s self-defeating pay cap has been scrapped in the NHS. That is to be welcomed.
The NHS pay offer unveiled today has certainly been a long time coming. Seven years of pay freezes and wage increases well below the cost of living have pushed many of those working in our most vital institution – the National Health Service – close to the brink. As a result, the NHS has struggled to hold onto experienced staff or recruit many of those needed to fill vacancies. The jewel in the crown of our public services was tarnished, deliberately, by making NHS workers pay for a crisis they didn’t cause.
Throughout this time, UNISON has campaigned to break the cap, to win for all NHS workers the pay and conditions that these public service champions deserve. We have lobbied and marched, debated and cajoled. We demanded that the government give all NHS workers a pay rise – not just cherry picking certain professions or pay grades.
And in recent months, long and complex negotiations between the government, NHS employers and health unions (of which UNISON is the largest), have thrashed out the proposed agreement on offer today.
As a result, more than a million people working in our health service are being offered a long overdue pay rise. Every NHS worker on Agenda for Change terms – from the hospital porter to the NHS manager – will benefit. And no-one will lose any holidays as a result of this proposed agreement.
UNISON has fought off attempts to give pay rises to the few and won a pay offer for the many. Better still, the £4.2bn needed to fund the offer comes from the Treasury – meaning it’s not funded through cuts to existing NHS services.
Under the proposed agreement – hospital caterers, cleaners, porters and other staff on the lowest pay grade would get an immediate pay rise of over £2,000 this year (an increase of between about 10%), lifting tens of thousands of NHS workers out of poverty pay and ensuring that every single NHS worker in England will be paid more than the real living wage, and over the next three years, more than 100,000 of the lowest paid health workers would be in line for wage increases of between 15 per cent (£2,300) and 17 per cent (£2,600).
Other NHS staff would receive pay rises between 9 and 29% over the next three years, thanks to changes to the existing pay structure, with most staff moving to the top of their pay band more quickly. Most health workers already at the top of their band would get a 6.5 per cent pay rise between April 2018 and April 2020.
If the pay offer is accepted, every NHS workers’ wages will go further, and the lowest paid will get a significant income boost. Meanwhile, starting salaries for nurses, midwives and other health professionals will also become more attractive to people considering a career in the NHS. That’s something which benefits all of us.
Now it is those NHS staff, who have suffered through the long years of so-called “pay restraint”, and who still struggle with the effects of cuts and austerity, who must decide whether to accept the offer. Every NHS worker must weigh up whether or not what is being offered meets their needs and those of the service where they work. UNISON has built a pay calculator so all members can see for themselves what the proposals would mean for them.
After the pay cap years, when NHS workers felt their hands were tied beyond their control, it is UNISON members and members of other health unions who will decide their future for themselves.
In the meantime, UNISON will not give up our fight for better pay for all public service workers. It’s time the government properly funded public services and those who work in them, and ensured that every public servant is properly rewarded for the vital work that they do.
Today’s NHS pay offer, and the end to the pay cap, is a positive breakthrough in the fight for decent pay. But there is still a long way to go, and UNISON will keep on fighting every step of the way.
Dave Prentis is General Secretary of UNISON