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HEALTH unions responded to the “insult” of a 1 per cent pay rise for nurses and other NHS staff with the threat of strike action today.
On the heels of a £30 billion cut to NHS funding, the government announced today that it would be enforcing a real-terms pay cut by tying the hands of the service’s pay-review body — provoking fury from health service workers and unions.
An emergency meeting of the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) leadership voted unanimously to set up a £35 million industrial action fund, while the Unite union said it would be considering balloting members for action.
Health Minister Nadine Dorries insisted 1 per cent was all the government could “afford,” claiming that nurses had already had a 12 per cent pay boost over the previous three years.
The reality, according to TUC research, is that nurses have already suffered a £2,500 real-terms pay cut across a decade of Tory rule, while porters have seen their pay devalued by £850, maternity-care assistants by £2,100 and paramedics by £3,300.
One staff nurse, who gave her name only as Mel, described the move as “hypocrisy in its greatest form” and said for her the increase would mean just £3.50 a week.
She said: “We have healthcare staff using foodbanks, so £3.50 is not going to improve their situation in any way, shape or form.
“I am angry beyond words both for myself (and) for my colleagues who I see struggle daily.”
Reflecting nurses’ anger, the RCN council said it would be setting up the country’s biggest strike fund “overnight” and that it was “determined to have the finances available to our members should they wish to take action.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said that following the “kick-in-the-teeth announcement” the union would be considering all its options, “including the holding of an industrial action ballot.
“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.
“We will also be consulting the other health unions and professional bodies to co-ordinate and strengthen our approach to the pay campaign — mobilising public opinion will be key.”
Unite is seeking a rise of 15 per cent or £3,000, whichever is greater, to compensate at least partly for erosion of pay it reckons at 19 per cent since 2010.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison dismissed ministers’ defence of the 1 per cent recommendation as “contemptuous” and ”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 per cent or £2 per hour, whichever is the greatest,” she said, calling on the pay review body to “do the right thing” and ignore the government.
Unsion head of health Sarah Gorton described the recommendation as “the worst kind of insult the government could give health workers who’ve given their absolute everything over the past year.
“Ministers who’ve been happy to throw buckets of cash to fix their own failures should find the money for those who’ve put their lives on the line and made a real difference.
“Without a decent pay rise, exhausted and experienced staff will leave, and then the NHS will be in an even more perilous state.”
Unison is calling on the government to give all NHS workers a pay rise of at least £2,000.
Its general secretary Christina McAnea urged the public to join in a mass slow-handclap at 8pm on March 11 against the “derisory” 1 per cent.
She said: “Millions stood on doorsteps and clapped for health staff who’ve given their all. Let’s now stand up for their right to fair wages.”
Labour shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth demanded that Health Secretary Matt Hancock explain why the government was breaking its promise to reward health workers for their efforts throughout the pandemic.
“These promises to nurses now lie in tatters. Boris Johnson is cutting nurses’ pay. As night follows day, you simply can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ministers have chosen to spend hundreds of millions on outsourcing our failed test-and-trace system and on dodgy PPE contracts.
“But they have chosen not to find the money to give nurses, paramedics and other NHS workers fair pay.”
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