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Fair pay now, say health unions as ‘hidden abuse’ of unpaid overtime soars

HEALTH unions and opposition leaders have ramped up calls for a fair pay rise for NHS staff as figures show that more than 300,000 worked unpaid overtime during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Analysis of NHS staff survey figures released by Labour last night shows that the number of staff working unpaid hours rose by 13,000 last year to 308,563.

It suggests that well over a million hours of unpaid overtime were worked during the pandemic, the party said.

The survey also reveals that less than a third of nurses and midwives are satisfied with their current pay levels, and that NHS staff who have worked on Covid wards are more likely to be dissatisfied with their pay.

The government remains on a collision course with health unions after it signalled that it would impose a 1 per cent increase on NHS staff – in reality a further pay cut on top of a decade of real-terms cuts.

Labour has sought to place the NHS pay issue at the centre of local elections in May, when the NHS pay review body is set to report following the government’s “recommendation” of a 1 per cent rise.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The whole country saw the heroism of our nurses and NHS staff during this pandemic. And the whole country is watching as this injustice continues. Our NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise.”

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said her union had highlighted the “concerning” issue of high levels of unpaid overtime in its evidence to the pay review body.

Even staff paid for overtime, particularly nurses, were often forced onto agency bank contracts to work their additional hours so that their trusts could avoid paying the proper overtime rates, she charged.

Ms Harrison said: “Unmanageable workloads are leading to very high rates of unpaid overtime working, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Many staff, in all job roles, work additional hours — porters, cleaners, paramedics, healthcare support workers, nurses — whether this is voluntary or mandatory or as a result of circumstances meaning their shifts overrun. 

“Most staff accept this as a part of the job, but they should also expect to be paid for those hours. 

“Our NHS key workers should be fully rewarded for all the hours they work. It’s a disgrace that these workers who have been on the front line throughout the pandemic have been doing so unpaid. 

“The government needs to put a stop to this hidden abuse of workers now and commit to the pay award that that they deserve — 15 per cent or £2 per hour — which would be a restorative pay increase for all workers in the NHS.”

Since 2010 nurses’ pay has been devalued by £2,500, paramedics’ by £3,300, maternity care assistants’ by £2,100 and porters’ by £850, according to the TUC.

Two NHS unions — Unite and the Royal College of Nursing — have already threatened strike action, the latter setting up a strike fund of £35 million.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “NHS staff have given their all during the pandemic working long shifts and extra hours in extremely difficult conditions. Many are having to cover for colleagues because of the high vacancy rate in the health service.  

“All of them deserve a fair and decent pay rise, not a woeful 1 per cent increase. The government must rethink or face an exodus of fed-up and burned-out staff from the NHS,” she said.

Union demands vary, but most are seeking a double-digit percentage increase to make up for the decade of erosion, which Unite says has slashed real-terms pay by 19 per cent.



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