BOTH the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) trade unions yesterday warned that Health Secretary Hunt is planning a new war on NHS workers, ‘repeating the junior doctors row’ in order to give NHS workers a pay rise with one hand and then rip back more than he gave by scrapping the Agenda for Change agreements with the NHS trade unions.
A spokesperson for the RCN, responding to reports in the Health Service Journal (HSJ) on Hunt and his pay reform plans, said: ‘Jeremy Hunt is in danger of repeating the junior doctors row if he deploys the same tactics … The RCN will not accept the Government’s productivity argument as a condition of a pay rise and we will not support any reduction in terms and conditions.’
Hunt has said the contract agreed with junior doctors after last year’s bitter pay dispute ‘was sensible’ and hinted it was the model for a new Agenda for Change contract. Jon Skewes, Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the RCM, commented: ‘Last week’s Budget was helpful on funding, but the Secretary of State, by citing the junior doctor’s dispute, has blundered …
‘Mr Hunt would be well advised to address the real terms pay loss our members have suffered over the last seven years. It would be entirely unacceptable to ask midwives and other NHS staff to fund their own pay increase through cutting their terms and conditions.’
In fact, it is exactly this that Hunt is preparing to do, as he has indicated by citing his war with the junior doctors – and discussions have already taken place between Hunt and the main NHS unions on the issue.
The HSJ reported on November 9th that ‘Unions and employers have agreed “broad principles” for reforming the terms and conditions of more than a million NHS workers.’ Hunt has already stated that he is lobbying the Treasury for more money on pay but also that the Treasury will expect ‘productivity’ savings in exchange.
His outline proposals included a ‘refresh’ of Agenda for Change with an emphasis on reforming the increment pay points and pay bands. Changes to weekend enhancements, unsocial hours pay and annual leave are all areas where ministers will demand savings in exchange for a higher pay rise wanted by the trade unions.
The pay review body is expected to start taking oral evidence in March and is not expected to report recommendations until the summer. Nevertheless, it is expected that talks could begin within months with a final deal to be reached in autumn 2018. In a statement, Unison head of health and chair of the staff side, Sara Gorton, said: ‘With the NHS stretched to breaking point, it’s difficult to picture the productivity wands that can be waved. Unless, of course, “productivity” is merely code for giving pay awards with one hand and cutting terms with the other. This simply won’t wash.’
However, speaking in the House of Commons, Chancellor Hammond told MPs, ‘The health secretary has already begun discussions with health unions on pay structure modernisation for Agenda for Change staff to improve recruitment and retention. He will submit evidence to the independent pay review body in due course.’
He added: ‘I think, to their credit, most unions are very open to these discussions. We are having very productive discussions with Agenda for Change unions and very good discussions with the BMA consultants committee so hopefully those will continue.’
NHS workers must insist that their trade unions oppose any destruction of Agenda for Change conditions and that they want a wage rise of at least double the present rate of inflation to make up partially for all that NHS workers have lost in the last ten years. There must be no strings attached of any kind.
Since the Tories will not give anything of the sort and are ready to rerun the ‘junior doctors’ struggle’ the NHS unions must get ready to win this war. This means learning from the doctors’ strikes when they were left to fight alone as the TUC and its affiliates looked on.
This time, all the unions must come out in a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government and socialism. This is the only way to get a decent pay rise and safeguard the NHS from privatisation.