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Unions angry at pay awards for public sector workers

·7-min read
UK bank notes (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
UK bank notes (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The Government is on a collision course with public sector workers including nurses and teachers after announcing pay rises which were attacked as a real-terms wage cut.

One union leader warned of co-ordinated strike action in response to pay announcements by ministers, and members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England will be balloted on industrial action.

More than one million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics and midwives, will receive an increase of at least £1,400 with lowest earners to receive up to 9.3%, while dentists and doctors will get a 4.5% pay rise, police 5% and teachers between 5 and 8.9%.

Health unions said the announcement amounts to a real terms pay cut.

RCN leaders said in an email to hundreds of thousands of nursing staff: “This is yet another pay cut in real terms and we’re clear that nursing deserves better. Tonight, an emergency session of your elected council voted that members in England will be balloted on industrial action.

“After years of underpayment and staff shortages, the fight for fair pay must continue. Your voice in the upcoming ballot will be essential to turning the tide on low pay.

“Their announcement tried desperately to mislead the public on nursing pay. We need your help in calling it out.

“This pay award does not help you with the rising cost of living – inflation is rising much higher. It will do nothing to help to recruit or retain more nursing staff where you work. It does not recognise the skill and responsibility of the job you do. Sadly, it will not keep patients safe.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Ministers seem intent on running down the NHS, showing scant regard for the millions of people languishing on waiting lists for tests and treatment.

“Rather than save the NHS with proper investment in staff and services, those vying to be the next prime minister want to keep back the cash for pre-election tax cuts.

“Fed-up staff might well now decide to take the matter into their own hands.

“If there is to be a dispute in the NHS, ministers will have no one to blame but themselves.”

The Government said it had accepted recommendations from the independent NHS pay review bodies in full, adding that the pay rise recognises the contribution of NHS staff while balancing the need to protect taxpayers, manage public spending and not drive up inflation.

Eligible dentists and doctors will receive a 4.5% pay rise (PA) (PA Archive)
Eligible dentists and doctors will receive a 4.5% pay rise (PA) (PA Archive)

The lowest earners, such as porters and cleaners, will see a 9.3% increase in their basic pay this year, compared to last year, said the Department for Health.

The average basic pay for nurses will increase from around £35,600 as of March 2022 to around £37,000 and the basic pay for newly qualified nurses will increase by 5.5%, from £25,655 last year to £27,055.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome an increase in pay for hardworking and overstretched NHS staff beyond the 3% uplift originally budgeted for.

“However, NHS and public health leaders cannot be put into the impossible position of having to choose which services they will cut back on in order to fund the additional rise.

“NHS employers have only been allocated enough money to award staff a 3% rise, so unless the extra increase is funded by the Treasury, very worryingly this will have to be drawn from existing budgets and will mean an estimated unplanned £1.8 billion shortfall.”

The British Dental Association said the 4.5% pay rise for dentists is “derisory”, warning it will accelerate the workforce crisis facing NHS dentistry across the UK.

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “This is nowhere ​near what’s needed to save the NHS.

“Demoralised ​and depleted health workers needed to know that ministers are serious about solving the staffing crisis and investing in the future.

“The way to do that was through a significant pay award.

“The Government’s shown it’s prepared to sit by and watch waiting lists grow, ambulance call times ​lengthen and patient suffering increase.

“Many will be seriously considering industrial action after this pitiful increase and a majority of the public will be behind them.”

Assistant director at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Elaine Sparkes said: “NHS workers have made it clear that a pay award like this is nowhere near enough in the current climate, being substantially less than the current and predicted level of inflation.

“Health unions will now consult members on what action they wish to take to ensure the extraordinary efforts of NHS staff are fairly rewarded.”

Laurence Turner, of the GMB, said: “An offer below inflation is a cut by another name.

“Recruitment and retention problems are now severe across the public sector and ministers are failing to invest in the services that the economic recovery needs.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Government promised rewards for the dedication of the public sector workforce during the pandemic. What they have delivered instead, in real terms, is a kick in the teeth.

“The so-called wage offer amounts to a massive national pay cut.

“We expected the inevitable betrayal, but the scale of it is an affront.”

Unions representing senior civil servants attacked their 2% pay rise.

FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said: “The Government has yet again decided to treat civil service leaders, its own employees, with contempt, by setting them apart from other senior public sector workers.

“A 2% pay increase is, in fact, a significant pay cut, and it is an extraordinary decision when you consider that other public sector leaders, who civil servants work alongside, will receive increases of between 3 and 4.5%.

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s an outrage that millions of our public sector colleagues have been told to accept half the rate of inflation, and it puts into further shocking focus the fact our members, the Government’s own workforce, are being told to accept even less.

“Brave workers in a number of unions, including within PCS, are already taking action over intolerable pay and our members will be balloted to join them in the autumn.

“We’ll be talking to our colleagues in other unions about organising co-ordinated national strike action.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Our amazing NHS workers put their lives on the line to get us through the pandemic.

“This is no way to repay that service.

“This below-inflation award will hit morale at a time when staff are leaving in droves and staff shortages are crippling vital services.”

“NHS workers have already endured a brutal decade of pay cuts and freezes.

“Ministers should be giving nurses and other NHS staff the fair pay rise they have earned – not driving them towards foodbanks.

“This is a Government that is happy for City bonuses to go through the roof but it won’t lift a finger to help ordinary workers make a decent living.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “This Government hugely values and appreciates the dedication and contribution of NHS staff which is why we will give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of £1,400 this year, on top of the 3% they received last year when pay rises were temporarily paused in the wider public sector.

“We asked the independent pay review bodies for their recommendations and I am pleased to accept them in full.

“We want a fair deal for staff. Very high inflation-driven settlements would have a worse impact on pay packets in the long run than proportionate and balanced increases now, and it is welcome that the pay review bodies agree with this approach.”

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