NURSES and midwives will fight Tory Health Secretary Hunt’s plans to fund a pay rise by smashing their employment conditions, their unions insisted yesterday.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing, responding to reports in the Health Service Journal on Jeremy Hunt and pay reform, said: ‘Jeremy Hunt is in danger of repeating the junior doctors row if he deploys the same tactics.
‘His priority must be to talk to unions and representatives of the professions, rather than the media. 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.’
In his Budget last week, Tory Chancellor Hammond said the Treasury will find new money to fund pay rises for Agenda for Change staff but only if a final deal can be reached. This was followed by Hunt stating that union leaders are in advanced discussions to sell off hard won conditions, such as holiday entitlements, overtime and unsocial hours payments, in exchange for a pay increase.
Hunt said: ‘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.’
Jon Skewes, Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘It would appear that the Secretary of State for Health has ignored the advice of unions and others engaged in exploratory negotiations on the pay claim for NHS staff, and on the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay structure.
‘That advice was to explore more and talk less. His intervention has not helped the prospect of a deal on pay in the NHS. Last week’s Budget was helpful on funding, but the Secretary of State, by citing the junior doctor’s dispute, has blundered. We regard the AfC agreement as a most professional contract that is based on equal pay for work of equal value and we will not be prepared to weaken it.
‘We think the pay structure could be improved but we will not be prepared to reduce the fair compensation that midwives and other staff in the NHS receive for providing a service that is there every day, every night, every weekend, every bank holiday, every Christmas holiday.
‘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.’
Hunt said the contract agreed with junior doctors after last year’s bitter dispute ‘was sensible’ and hinted it could be a model for the new Agenda for Change contract. The health secretary said: ‘Across the public sector we have been wanting to move towards more professional pay structures.
‘I think the biggest area that we have wanted to reform for a long time is the system of increments – in particular, payments that simply relate to time served rather than any measurable increase in professional abilities. We have no desire to reduce the total amount paid to the NHS workforce by any such reforms. This isn’t a money-saving thing but about moving to modern professional pay structures.
‘Delivering the budget, chancellor Philip Hammond made clear the Treasury would provide additional funds for a pay rise for NHS staff if a deal was reached on changing terms and conditions.’
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.’