Leading officials of fourteen trade unions representing nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, occupational therapists and other NHS staff held a press conference on Tuesday, declaring they have joined forces to challenge the government’s 1.5 per cent limit on public sector pay increases.
They announced they are demanding a ‘substantial above inflation pay award’ for their members in 2007 to reflect the true increase in the cost of living over the past year.
The press conference at UNISON head office in London was to release their joint evidence submitted to the independent Pay Review Body for Nursing and other Health Professions (NOHPRB), which makes recommendations to the government on the level of pay awards for NHS workers.
In their submission to the Pay Review Body, the unions point to the ‘impressive contribution made by NHS staff in helping to achieve the government’s ambitious reform agenda for the NHS’.
They argue that NHS staff have been ‘instrumental in pushing through reforms, driving innovation and working with new services to benefit patients, reduce waiting times and improve public health.’
They say this is ‘all the more impressive set against a backdrop of great upheaval in the health service’.
The unions also highlight the ‘real rise in the cost of living for NHS staff including increases in energy costs, housing, council tax and travel, all of which impact disproportionately on lower paid staff’.
The unions warn that ‘the Chancellor’s insistence that pay awards are below the inflation level and limited to 1.5 per cent, fails to take into account the real cost of living by excluding mortgage and related housing costs’.
Giving a presentation, Staff Side joint chair Mike Jackson, UNISON, said: ‘Fifty-six per cent of health workers are doing unparalleled unpaid overtime. He added that large numbers experience stress and have suffered assaults.
Jackson said the government’s new Payment By Results funding system was putting strain on trust finances but deficits only ‘amount to one per cent of the NHS budget’.
He warned: ‘Graduates in the NHs are facing unemployment at unprecedented levels’ of between 80 to 90 per cent for nurses.
Staff Side joint secretary Josie Irwin added: ‘Surveys of NHS staff reveal that morale and motivation are falling due to the pace of change and financial pressures.
‘With staff shortages, redundancies and job losses, pay is more important.’
Challenging government figures, Jackson said: ‘Recruitment freezes, job cuts and the use of agency staff are covering over the vacancy figures.’
On top of this, he added: ‘Sixty per cent of nurses are over 40, while 20 per cent are under 30.’
He pointed out that as well as ‘the Payment by Results tariff system beginning to kick in, the use of the private sector’ is putting pressure on NHS finances – ‘£5bn has been spent on private treatment centres’.
He stressed: ‘We are seeking a one year pay deal.’
Jackson added: ‘NHS pay has fallen behind the private sector and rest of the public sector.’
In answer to the government’s claim that its offer amounts to four per cent in real terms, the RCN’s Irwin said: ‘The four per cent figure is masking what’s really going on.’
Jackson added angrily: ‘The government review said they were going to include incremental progressions in calculating the pay rise.
‘Including incremental progression will mean a pay cut.’
Warren Town, Society of Radiographers added: ‘Including incremental progression shows the government is using any excuse to keep pay down.’
Barrie Brown of Amicus, said such increments ‘recognise an increase in skills.
‘We feel strongly about the use of incremental progression. It has never been on the Pay Review Body before.’
GMB national officer Sharon Holder said such payments were part of the Agenda for Change ‘which was supposed to deliver equal pay’.
She added: ‘If you can’t address equal pay this is not a fair pay system.’
Jon Skewes, Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘None of us rules out industrial action.
‘But we are here to put our evidence to the Pay Review Body.
‘The next step, critically will show if the government honours what the PRB recommends.
‘The question is will the government have none of it.’
Staff side joint chair, UNISON head of health Karen Jennings said: ‘It is down to the PRB to see the justice of our arguments and to make up their own minds, without interference from Treasury diktat.’
Dr Beverly Malone, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary said: ‘NHS staff should not be used as weapons in the Chancellor’s battle against inflation or to balance NHS debts.’
She added: ‘Financial deficits, job insecurity and relentless reforms are putting NHS staff under a great deal of pressure and damaging morale.
‘Despite struggling with limited resources, they are working flat out to deliver the very best care to patients.
‘Now more than ever, we need to ensure that NHS staff get a fair and decent pay award.
‘The 1.5 per cent the Chancellor is proposing represents a substantial pay cut.’
Malone said nurses are loathe to take industrial action but ‘there is a lot of anger’ over job cuts and pay.
The unions’ submission provides evidence from Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) of between 17,000 to almost 19,000 posts under threat in the current financial crisis through vacancy freezes, closures and redundancies.
In addition, more than a quarter of the current nursing workforce is due to retire by 2021.
Radiographers’ representative, Warren Town said: ‘I would not rule out industrial action if the government interfered with the recommendation of the PRB.’
RCM leader Jon Skewes said: ‘Midwives coming out of courses are not getting jobs – 50 per cent are unable to find a post, it’s disastrous.
‘People feel deeply let down by a government that has changed the rules.’
Peter Finch, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: ‘I think it’s cynical to use graduate unemployment to hold down wages. Sixty per cent are not getting jobs.
‘Graduate students are thrown on the scrap heap, some are working at Tescos. It’s a dreadful waste of public money.’
The GMB’s Sharon Holder told News Line: ‘With the pace of reform and the direction the government is taking, there is a much greater likelihood now than ever before of industrial action in the NHS.
‘That is being highlighted by the growing impetus in local communities to defend their local services from cuts.
‘We are completely opposed to what the government is recommending.
‘It’s an arbitrary figure – a pay cut of 7-10 per cent.’
Anne Duffy, chief executive of the Community and District Nurses Association (CDNA), told News Line: ‘There are not enough nurses to provide the care in the community the government plans.
‘Up and down the country, our members are facing the loss of jobs, and the out of hours services – which includes the evening shift, twilight shifts and night shifts.
‘The Primary Care Trusts have been told to save money and they have started to close down evening services.
‘They are proposing that at the moment.
‘This not only affects our members but patients, many who are elderly and terminally ill.
‘The CDNA campaigned for years to get 24 hours community nursing care, and now the PCTs are threatening to start closing the evening service again.’