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Nurses are right to demand scrapping the cap on public-sector pay

ROYAL College of Nursing (RCN) members should be congratulated for their demonstrations across Britain yesterday against the Tory government’s 1 per cent pay cap on public-sector workers.

Their action highlights the grotesque iniquity of a policy that dumps much of the burden of austerity on the heads of some of our lowest-paid and most socially valuable workers. For more than six years, public servants have seen their workloads increase as the value of their wages and pensions shrink.

For instance, more than £4 billion has been filched from the pay packets of NHS staff since 2010 as a direct result of the cap imposed by the Tories and originally — lest we forget — their Lib Dem coalition collaborators.

As the biggest public-sector union Unison has pointed out, that amounts to an annual loss of £4,846 for the average nurse, £2,288 for a hospital cleaner and £3,846 for a clinical psychologist.

Recommendations from the independent NHS pay review body that public-sector staff need and deserve decent pay rises have been ignored by successive governments.

The money to fund private finance initiatives, military rearmament, overseas wars and EU budget contributions has to come from somewhere, according to the Tories and their co-thinkers in the Lib Dem and Labour parties.

That “somewhere” is public services, the welfare state and public-sector workers. As NHS founder Aneurin Bevan used to put it, it’s a question of priorities.

For the Tories and their ilk, Monday’s launch of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier costing £3bn is more important than the well-being of our nurses and other invaluable NHS staff.

The 138 F-35 jet fighters to put on two new carrier decks have not been built yet — and they will cost another £100 million apiece.

Unison, the RCN and other unions rightly make the point that a decent pay rise would help retain and recruit badly needed staff.

The government’s alternative to such an approach has been announced this week — the imminent privatisation of NHS Professionals, the state-owned body which hires out 90,000 temporary health workers to hospitals across England, saving them £70m in private agency fees.

Hating successful public enterprise when there’s a profit to be made by private-sector capitalists, the Tories have put NHS Professionals out to tender. Among the bidders are private equity vultures and one of the staff agencies that are wrecking the privatised probation service in England and Wales.

According to Health Minister Philip Dunne, selling off three-quarters of NHS Professionals will bring in “substantial investment” to expand and improve its services. Tell that to water consumers or railway passengers, where privatisation has brought in very little investment while filling the coffers of big business directors and shareholders through state subsidies.

It is to be hoped that this latest NHS privatisation will fuel the anger of health workers and direct it into industrial action if necessary in order to break through the pay cap.

But they should also see their fight for higher pay as part of a wider struggle to cast off the 1 per cent cap across the whole public sector.

Now is the time, with a weakened and deeply unpopular minority government in office, for the trade unions involved to plan a united, joint “decent pay for all” campaign at national and local levels. With retail sales flagging, a wages victory would boost the economy across Britain.

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