When the idea of striking over pay this autumn was first muted I was not in support and was going to vote no in my Union's ballot. I don’t believe the government will listen and thought our time and energy was better spent on making the public aware of the pressures in the service and pressure on staff at all levels. Then on August 6th, while many of the overwhelmingly female staff may have been enjoying a summer holiday with family and the press were not looking, Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced he was not going to ask the independent pay review body to make any recommendations on next year’s pay. It is the death knell of the independent pay review body, set up by Margaret Thatcher to take pay negotiations out of politics!
Why has he done this? Pay for the 1.4m employees of the NHS is fully budgeted. The framework for most employees pay, Agenda for Change, needs review but it keeps a cap on the pay bill. Walking away from this allows the wage bill to spiral out of control downward for most and upward for some. Those on minimum wages, frontline nurses, physiotherapist, and ambulance crews, those on lower pay bands will see wages fall further relative to 2008 levels.
Those in more senior roles will start to negotiate bigger packages. It is yet another free for all market. Is that how we want to motivate and reward people who treat us at our most vulnerable?
Agenda for Change makes NHS staff unattractive to private sector take overs. That is why Danny Alexander is using the cloak of austerity to make his announcement in the summer holidays.
That is why I will be joining my union, Managers in Partnership, part of Unison on strike on Monday morning.
The campaign is not just about individual’s pay – it is also about ensuring the NHS has pay that can continue to recruit, retain and motivate our dedicated, high quality workforce.
All health unions support the campaign. The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, Royal College of Midwives (for the first time in its 133 year history), UNISON, Unite and GMB are taking industrial action. Others are still balloting and the rest are supporting the campaign in other ways.
The industrial action programme has been designed to allow dedicated healthcare staff to register the sort of protest of which politicians, employers and the media take note, while keeping disruption to patients to a minimum.
The industrial action is part of a wider campaign for fair pay. For example, health unions are lobbying Conservative and Lib Dem MPs to ask them to put pressure on the government and Jeremy Hunt to resolve the dispute.
The unions are ready to talk about seven day working, productivity and implementing the existing agreement on incremental pay progression.
NHS staff have, like many other employees, had a pay freeze now for 5 years as well as increased workload due to staff reductions. Staff have more than done their bit for austerity.
I don’t expect many people will strike. People cannot afford to lose more pay and are weary. I hope the public can express support for staff this week and please put pressure on Tory and Liberal MPs not to further disrupt the NHS by abandoning the independent review body.