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Starmer told to ‘step up’ in NHS pay fight

Staff ask Labour to back 15% rise after a decade of brutal cuts

NHS workers joined with MPs, trade unions and campaigners today in urging Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to “step up” and support a decent pay rise for health-service staff.

Grassroots campaign group NHS Workers Say No published an open letter, co-signed by about 100 individuals and organisations, urging the Labour leader to support an immediate restorative NHS wage increase of 15 per cent after a decade of real-terms pay cuts.

The Step Up Starmer letter, signed by Labour MPs including Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, the United Voices of the World union and the Labour Assembly Against Austerity, said the government’s recent offer of a 1 per cent pay rise — a real-terms pay cut — was “a kick in the teeth.”

The letter, also backed by celebrities including Morning Star ambassador Maxine Peake, former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston and pop group UB40, had already been signed online by hundreds of members of the public as the Star went to press.

It says: “NHS workers have endured a decade of real-terms pay cuts during Conservative austerity, losing up to 20 per cent of their salary as wages have increased significantly below inflation rates …

“Our NHS and its workers were already at breaking point before Covid-19, with 100,000 vacancies, privatisation running down services and a looming staff mental-health crisis.

“And yet, despite tirelessly working on the front line to protect us all, dying from the virus at disproportionate rates, the government has failed our NHS and its workers time and again during the crisis.”

Addressed to Sir Keir directly, it concludes: “During the pandemic, you have spoken about how much you value the NHS and its workers.

“As leader of the opposition, representing a party with a proud history of championing public services and fair treatment of workers, we count on your support to unilaterally prove this now.

“Please will you work with us to demand the government enact a restorative 15 per cent pay rise for all NHS staff?”

Labour and the government are under heavy pressure to back a bigger increase after it was confirmed last week that Scotland’s health workers will receive a rise of at least 4 per cent.

NHS unions wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in response, urging him to meet them and discuss a way forward for England’s NHS staff.

The open letter to Sir Keir notes that Labour-affiliated unions Unite and GMB, the latter representing thousands of NHS and ambulance workers, back a 15 per cent pay rise. It is signed by Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe on behalf of the union.

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison called for “pay justice” for all healthcare staff.

“After a decade of austerity and real-terms pay cuts, 15 per cent is not even a pay rise, just restoring what they’ve lost after 10 years of Tory government,” she said.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs told the Star: “Our NHS went into this pandemic with one hand tied behind its back after years of privatisation, outsourcing and austerity.

“It’s absolutely clear that our health service won’t recover from this crisis unless it is reinstated as a fully public service and receives the funding it desperately needs.

“That means we need to make sure our health staff are paid properly and treated well.”

A YouGov poll in January showed that three quarters of people supported a wage increase of at least 10 per cent for nurses.

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