Three year smoke & mirrors pay deal means real financial hardship for NHS staff continues

GARY PALMER addressing the News Line Anniversary Rally on November 4th
GARY PALMER addressing the News Line Anniversary Rally on November 4th

‘THE CURRENT 3 year deal,’ says Gary Palmer GMB Regional Organiser, ‘fails to deliver a real terms pay increase for the majority of NHS staff, and if we are not to fail our members the fight for a real fair pay deal for all must continue.

‘Working across various Southern and Southeast NHS Hospital and Ambulance Trusts I witness on a day to day basis the very low morale amongst over-worked, undervalued, underpaid, stressed, bullied and harassed NHS frontline and support staff.

I am also dealing with overpaid senior NHS management who frankly have little empathy for staff and no real intent in trying to halt the purposeful collapse of the NHS by a Tory government, as they purposefully and grossly underfund and undermine NHS services.

It is all to support weighted procurement processes and a privatisation plan which encompasses collusion at the very highest of levels between NHS national Employers and the government to give large NHS contracts to Tory supporting private profiteers.

If you also include the secretary of state for health of that time, Jeremy Hunt’s narrative and rationale in putting a 3 year NHS deal on the table, the government sought to remove one of the most highly discussed topics outside of Brexit, that is proper NHS funding and a fair and decent NHS pay offer for staff angry and despondent from year on year of successive pay deals.

These pay deals failed to address provision of a decent real term pay rise, to even halt, let alone redress the below inflation pay rises which have seen NHS staff pay plunge by at least 14% in real terms in the last seven years, leaving those who care for us struggling to care for themselves and their families. This must constitute the perfect storm of issues within the NHS for unions to organise around – surely?

However, with 13 of the 14 health Unions signing off the awful 3 year deal, many members in the unions must be wondering if those supposedly there to protect them really do have their interests at heart.

For instance the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said its members would begin receiving the largest pay rise in a decade in their July pay packets. For most RCN members that promise never materialised.

Unison were very clear in stating that they had led intense and detailed negotiations, and were also very clear in their advice to membership when they said: “This could mean an increase for lower-paid staff that would take them above the living wage, substantial increases to starting salaries, meaningful pay rises on promotion, faster progression through most pay bands” – and more in claiming that the Treasury had committed to fully funding the proposals, to the tune of £4.2bn, which meant that pay increases will not have to be met by cuts to jobs or patient care.

Releasing statements which were not truly reflective of the real deal has resulted in both Unions facing serious criticism and calls being made for Senior Union post holders resignations. This is from their own membership, who had entrusted them to go through the fine details of the deal no matter how convoluted and complex those details were, but instead ended up misdirecting them, misinterpreting information that was available.

They did not produce easy-to-understand balanced material on specifics within the deal, so that members could vote after appreciating the full impact upon themselves and colleagues.

Lowest paid NHS staff are to be moved from Band 1 to band 2

Initially little was made of the employers having until 2021 to do so if they choose to leave it late to implement. They failed to explain that the hourly rate would rise anyway over the same period as the minimum wage increased and that this would mean the rates matched the lowest spinal point in band 2 in 2021 regardless.

Plus you could then find yourselves having to stay in band 2 for two years before hitting the top point. In addition moving up a band will see many low paid workers having their enhancements rates cut when they work overtime, weekends etc from 50% & 100% to 44% & 88%, virtually meaning that they will fund their own pay rise, and be worse off in real terms.

No, if you really want to benefit the lowest paid, Trusts need to commit to making that banding increase immediately for those that opt to take the move up, in addition to committing to also raise enhancements within the new banding to continue to reward staff fully for working unsocial shifts.

Meaningful pay rises on promotion

If you’re in the Ambulance service for instance this will mean that when you change your role or are seeking a promotion, you will have to move from your current AfC (Agenda for Change) Annex 5 schedule for unsocial hours payments to the governments preferred money-saving section 2 schedule, which has the potential on average to cost most paramedics at least £5,000-£6,000 a year when imposed. It also means as Annex 5 is closed to new ambulance staff, we have the beginning of a two-tier workforce which will inevitably lead to further attacks on staff T&C’s when the government look to harmonise unsocial payments in the future.

Faster progression through pay bands

While it’s true that bandings have seen a reduction of incremental pay points within many of the pay bands, the agreement introduces a new system for pay progression commencing from April 2019. This links pay progression to management-led appraisals so that increments no longer happen automatically, meaning NHS staff staying on the same point for between two and five years, and then having to justify their progress to the new point.

Many GMB activists and members are concerned that management and Trusts strapped for cash will find ways of preventing staff who will need to have a clean disciplinary record, have up-to-date training and ensure they have achieved and maintained Trust values, from progressing as a way of saving money and in contributing to deficit reduction.

Unsocial payments

Ending the payment of unsocial hours payments will see eligibility for unsocial hours in sick pay pegged at £18,160. So in future those earning up to this amount will still get unsocial hours in sick pay, with those above no longer doing so. New starters won’t find an unsocial element included in the occupational sick pay from day one.

Of course as salaries rise the government’s plan is that this provision will phase itself out altogether from the Agenda for Change absence policy. Sick leave for all staff essentially becoming the equivalent of a fine for being off sick. For those at the top of their bands, which equates to over 50% of NHS staff, many will have found themselves immensely disappointed when the quoted 3% pay increase didn’t arrive.

Instead, they found out that they may have to wait a further period to get the remainder of the year 1 below inflation rise, meaning that with Pension increases taken into account many found themselves only marginally better off at best, whilst some found themselves worse off each month.

In fact over the three years a total 6.5% pay increase will see many potentially struggle to even maintain their current standard of living with the forecast for inflation over the length of the agreement likely to be around 9.3%. I suggest removal of the banding pay cap for those at the top of their bands, to allow spinal points pay progression which then continues to reward staff year on year increasing of their professional skills and knowledge and patient care and assistance, meaning staff can actually be rewarded for the work they do.

The Treasury has committed to fully funding the proposals

However the Chancellor has actually only guaranteed the first year of funding. During the period of the pay deal, there is likely to be a Comprehensive Spending Review, which could lead to a totally different scenario, potentially even including individual trusts having to part fund pay rises themselves.

Of course with so many NHS Trusts already having substantial deficits, they will be under pressure from the Treasury and The Department of Health to reduce these deficits during the time of this agreement. The NHS cannot function without the goodwill of its staff and the very high levels of unpaid overtime contributed by GMB members, with 59% of NHS workers reporting that they regularly work unpaid overtime.

Our analysis suggests that, if those workers were paid for these additional hours, they would be due an immediate 17.2% pay rise. So where do we go? Does the GMB simply sit back and say sorry we tried but the sign off from other unions prevent us really doing anything . . .

No, no-way, that’s not an option. But of course we need to be realistic for as long as the other unions remain entrenched in working hand in hand with the Tories, supporting a pay deal that’s not fair for all, we will have a fight on our hands for sure, but saying that, this is what we do. Our NHS members have told us we should seek to gain an improved offer regardless of the agreed 3 year deal.

We need therefore to go out and organise to try to deliver that aim to the best of our ability despite the lack of support in general from the other NHS unions. Getting NHS staff to care as much about themselves as they do for their patients is hard, very hard, and I’ve no doubt that the disappointing national industrial action ballot result where GMB didn’t achieve the anti-trade union law essential services ballot thresholds, saw concerns over patients care preventing NHS front line professionals, nurses and support staff from voting, although there were Trusts where members showed strong support and where the ballot results would have supported industrial action on a more local basis.

The power to change things is within control of staff within the NHS, it always has been. We just need to work harder to unlock that potential and be smarter how we action industrial pressure throughout the NHS, and if that means taking action in workplaces where membership vote to do so then we have to be supportive of that right being exercised.

To gain an outright win though we need to unite all NHS unions. By now the 13 should be able to see the error of their ways, hopefully in recommending such a poor 3 year deal to members. It’s simply go back to your members now the deal has been implemented and re-ballot members if they still accept the deal, knowing all the real facts and impact upon their pay, terms and conditions.

Campaign with the GMB and let’s return to the pay review body to use collectively our United strength, to empower NHS staff to fight for a real pay deal which will benefit all NHS staff and begin to redress the years of underpayments and pay freezes.’