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Industrial action threat amid anger over 1% pay rise for NHS workers

Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent
·4-min read

A leading union has warned of industrial action amid mounting anger over the Government’s recommendation of a 1% pay rise for nurses and other health workers.

Unite, which represents tens of thousands of health service staff, said it will now be considering all its options, including holding an industrial action ballot, as part of its campaign for a decent pay rise.

The Government sparked fresh anger on Friday when it defended its call for pay to be pegged at 1%.

Health Minister Nadine Dorries said the Government could not afford to give NHS staff in England a pay rise of more than 1% following the revelation that the figure has been submitted to the sector’s pay review body (PRB).

She gave a series of media interviews on Friday defending the Government’s position, saying nurses have received a 12% increase in pay over the last three years and the average nurse’s salary is around £34,000.

“Everybody in an ideal world would love to see nurses paid far more … but we are coming out of a pandemic where we have seen huge borrowing and costs to the Government,” she told Sky.

“I think it is important to note that the priority of the Government has been about protecting people’s livelihoods, about continuing the furlough scheme, about fighting the pandemic, and we’ve put huge effort into that.

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“We do not want nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors – and no other public sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze.

“But the 1% offer is the most we think we can afford which we have put forward to the pay review body.”

Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, told the PA news agency: “Following yesterday’s kick-in-the-teeth announcement that the Government wants to peg NHS pay at 1% for 2021-22, Unite will be considering all its options, including the holding of an industrial action ballot, as our pay campaign mounts in the coming weeks.

“We will be fully consulting our members on the next steps, given that inflation could be 2% by the end of 2021, so what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recommending is another pay cut in real terms.

“It shows an unyielding contempt by ministers for those who have done so much to care for tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients in the last year.

“The public is rightly outraged by a Government that can spend £37 billion on the flawed private sector Test and Trace programme, but can’t find the cash for a decent pay rise for those on the NHS front line.

“Public opinion will be key in shaming the Government into changing its recommendations to the NHS Pay Review Body.

Rishi Sunak
The Chancellor faced criticism over the move (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak will suffer severe reputational damage if he fails to deliver the money necessary to fund a decent pay rise after a decade of austerity that has seen the pay packets of many NHS staff shrink by 19% in real terms since the Tories came to power in 2010.”

Unions representing workers ranging from nurses and doctors to porters and ambulance crews were furious at the suggestion of a below-inflation pay rise, which will be considered by the review body in May.

Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, told the PA news wire: “NHS workers are furious at the Government’s recommendation of 1% pay increase, published in their evidence to the PRB late yesterday afternoon – six weeks late.

“Ministers have followed this with an even more contemptuous defence of the paltry increase – essentially saying: ‘It’s better than nothing.’

“It’s dismissive and insulting to NHS workers who have had an incredibly tough year keeping us all safe.

“That’s why GMB’s pay submission is for a return of a decade of real terms pay losses – 15% or £2 per hour, whichever is the greatest.

Ambulances
The NHS has been on the front line of the fight against Covid-19 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“GMB is calling on the PRB to disregard the Government’s evidence and finally show NHS key workers the respect and value they have earned.”

Mel, a staff nurse, said the Government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff was an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.

She told the PA news agency the increase for her would equate to an extra £3.50 a week.

“It really isn’t true remuneration for the real-time pay cut that we have seen over the last decade,” she said.

“We have healthcare staff using food banks, so £3.50 is not going to improve their situation in any way, shape or form.

“I am angry beyond words both for myself but for my colleagues who I see struggle daily.”