Angry Nurses Force Emergency General Meeting Over Pay Sell-Out!

Nurses demonstrate in parliament Square against the against the one per cent pay cap
Nurses demonstrate in parliament Square against the against the one per cent pay cap

AN EMERGENCY General meeting will be held by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in September, in response to a petition with over 1,000 signatures expressing members’ outrage at their pay deal ‘miscommunication’.

Late last month, RCN chief executive Janet Davies was forced to issue an apology to members who would not be receiving the pay rise they were told to expect this summer – in the meantime an external review will be held. ‘The external review into the governance and process surrounding the RCN’s understanding and its communication of the 2018 NHS pay deal will be carried out by the Audit Compliance Team at Electoral Reform Services Limited,’ said chair of the RCN council, Maria Trewern.

‘They are eligible under the new trade union legislation to assure membership services.’

The Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) will take place in late September and once a venue is organised, members can plan to attend.

The EGM is in response to an online petition by RCN members on social media demanding a meeting to discuss this miscommunication as well as the members’ confidence in the RCN leadership. The RCN promised a 3% uplift in salaries which was not received in its entirety – instead, nurses will have to wait for the next portion of their pay rise. Many nurses received no raise at all!

Davies said that she was ‘angry’ and ‘dismayed’ that the miscommunication occurred. Furious RCN members launched the petition calling for the union’s leaders to stand down over their handling of communications about this year’s NHS pay deal in England.

The petition was started after Davies took the unprecedented step of writing to RCN members to apologise that they were given incorrect information about the pay deal that they voted on in the spring. Davies acknowledged that many have received less than the RCN told them they would. Along with the other main health unions, with the honourable exception of the GMB, the RCN had recommended the pay deal to members.

Meanwhile, there was renewed fury amongst RCN activists and members. Anthony Johnson, a health visitor, RCN member and former ‘pay champion’ (members who help organise local action around pay) said that the RCN ‘shouldn’t have trusted the government … It seems like they’ve just gone for the deal and been screwed over, but they’ve sold the deal so it’s their fault’.

Asked about the assertion by some unions that the deal was understood, Johnson replied, ‘No way is that true that staff understood. People were still passing around incorrect information right up till the vote.’ Many staff made similar comments on social media, as payslips landed on NHS staff doorsteps this week.

Johnson’s views have been echoed across social media. Many NHS staff are furious with the government. Lauren Gavaghan, a consultant psychiatrist, tweeted that the debacle was ‘Jeremy Hunt’s parting gift to NHS staff’.

Retired doctor Mark Cheeseman tweeted, ‘The NHS worries why it’s losing so many staff. And then double-crosses the ones they have got on a pay deal.’ Another NHS worker commented, ‘I’m a band 6 nurse at spine point 27, with incremental date of end of January. I cast my vote based on information given to me from the pay calculator (from Unison), which indicates that in year 1 my pay would increase by £1,672.

‘According to these newly released figures from (the NHS employers site) my pay will actually increase by £491, and I will have to wait until my next incremental date before I see the pay rise I voted for. ‘Since my pay was always going to increase on my next incremental date, I feel that I was misled.’ Another commented: ‘I work with highly intelligent, analytically astute people who are used to dealing with numbers and figures on a daily basis … and they were inveigled by the purposely Byzantine structure proposed.’ Many were angry with both the government and the unions who recommended the deal.

One NHS scientist tweeted: ‘The gasps of disbelief from NHS staff as they open their pay packets is reverberating around the Trust where I work. Overwhelming feeling is that the unions have been hoodwinked by the government.’ A community health nurse replied to a tweet by the RCN that mentioned a 3% pay rise, saying ‘That’s just not true though is it. It’s around 1.5 per cent until increment date, so not 3% for the full year. The NHS Employer tool also shows that will also happen in year 2 and 3 for me. Not how it was sold to staff before the vote.’

An advanced nurse practitioner tweeted: ‘Rather than an apology, how about a public denouncement of the deal, an apology and a declaration to fight it and poll members for action?’ An RCN spokesperson said: ‘This is not about reopening the deal. Despite some delays to payments, over the three years the deal has to run, members will receive the full amount promised. We are sorry for any confusion caused about what members were due to receive this month.’

In March 2018 Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary, tweeted that he was ‘Delighted to confirm pay rise of between 6.5 and 29% for NHS staff who have worked so hard over a tough Winter, in a £4.2bn deal.’ Hunt told Parliament: ‘Rarely has a pay rise been so well deserved for NHS staff, who have never worked harder.’ In further developments, fresh concerns have emerged about the impact of pensions.

The leaders of the GMB have expressed disappointment at the actual increase, and both activists in other unions and the GMB leadership have reiterated their previous concerns about the deal, including the impact of inflation and changes to payments for unsocial hours. The GMB tweeted yesterday: ‘We couldn’t recommend Jeremy Hunt’s dodgy NHS pay offer to our members. And so we didn’t.’

In March, thousands of healthcare professionals were calling for a ballot on strike action over the proposed NHS pay deal. Writing in Nursing Notes Ian Snug gave ‘11 reasons to reject NHS pay proposals’. Jacqui Berry started a petition to NHS Trade Unions: ‘Reject the Smoke and Mirror Pay Offer’.

She stressed that ‘accepting this offer is accepting continued pay restraint. ‘Workers across health unions must send a clear message to the government. Reject.’ In the end twelve of the thirteen NHS unions recommended the deal. Only the GMB recommended reject and 87% voted to do so.

GMB’s National Officer Rachel Harrison commented: ‘All that glitters is not gold and it’s now clear that Jeremy Hunt’s last act was to try and mislead NHS workers who have already endured years of real-terms pay cuts. ‘We have always warned that the devil would be in the detail, and so it has proved … That is why GMB is holding an indicative ballot for industrial action over this pay offer.’

Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance, Dave Wiltshire, said: ‘We are organising a lobby of the TUC Congress on Sunday September 9th to demand they call a general strike to bring this government down. ‘We are calling on nurses and all NHS workers to join the lobby and demand that union leaders who do not fight for the interests of their members, as is the case with this rotten pay deal, are kicked out and replaced with a revolutionary leadership who will.’