Dan Langley, a rank-and-file nurse activist, discusses the recently announced pay deal for NHS staff. Despite what the media and Tories say, this is a pay cut in real terms, not an offer to be celebrated or accepted.
The crisis in the NHS is deepening every day. Nurses are disappearing. People are needlessly dying at home. Hospitals are being pushed beyond their bed occupancy limits. Thousands of surgeries are being cancelled. Ambulances are queuing for hours. Patients sleep in corridors in pain. Mental health patients are left waiting for days and the length of waiting lists are in the years.
Just last year alone, 33,000 demoralised nurses – the backbone of the NHS – left the profession. That’s a 20% increase compared to the 2012 rate. Patient safety is now highly jeopardised.
All the Tories can respond with is pure disdain, offering an insulting pay deal to NHS staff.
13 of the 14 unions, however, have decided to close their eyes and ears to reality, claiming this omnishambles as a victory. The GMB leadership are the only union who saw fit to not recommend this derisory offer, a welcome stance.
Divide and rule
Contrary to media spin, it isn’t a 6.5% pay rise – or even the fabled 29% pay rise being announced on the front pages of many newspapers (which is patently false).
The deal offered either matches current inflation levels or is below the projected inflation over the next few years. It is therefore three years’ worth of pay cuts!
This is especially troubling for the 52% of NHS staff on the Agenda for Change pay scale who are already at the top of their bands. They have given decades of dedicated service to the NHS and have received nothing but a slap in the face in return. It is a classic case of divide and rule.
NHS workers on lower band 2 will only see a rise of £3,933 over the next three years – again, below inflation.
What’s more appalling is that the majority of these low-paid workers (who the unions are rejoicing for) have been forced into the arms of private companies. As the NHS continues to outsource its porters, domestics, caterers and maintenance, etc., these workers won’t be getting any pay rise whatsoever.
Attacks and cuts
Nurses are already the lowest paid graduates in the UK. Those on the band 5 wage, now standing at £22,128, will only see their pay rise to £24,214 in 2019/2020 and £26,970 in 2020/21. Inflation over the same period will be a cumulative 9.6%, ripping away at these little-to-nothing ‘gains’.
The minor rises offered get smaller as each year passes (3%, then 1.7%, then 1.7%). The RCN ironically even made a calculator last year to show that new starters should actually be on approximately £29k+. And yet the RCN leaders now seem to have forgotten about this!
Beyond that, they will be tampering with the automatic increment system that was already in place, even though it was below inflation too (the 1% pay cap). Without increments our pay will be linked to ‘productivity’ – as if nurses who already work the jobs of three people can become any more productive!
This will also leave room for discrimination, as evidence shows that productivity-based pay does not favour BME workers, women, the disabled, and anyone active in a trade union, who may face blacklisting.
Their justification on this is to ‘crackdown on staff sicknesses’. It’s disgusting that the union tops are not as abhorred by this point of view as NHS workers are. Management grinds us to the bone; they exhaust us; we work under-resourced; we work over our contracted hours; and they offer us peanuts – only then to blame us when we get physically unwell or mentally unstable.
We have had to wait months with added postponements for this deal. This shows the lack of democracy and transparency involved in the process, and also the lack of backbone from the 14 unions involved.
Nurses, paramedics, occupational therapists, all NHS professionals: this is our time to fight for what is best – not only for us and our working conditions, but also for our patients and wider society as a whole.
NHS staff have shown nothing but rage at this attack. These rumblings are a manifestation of years of pay squeezes and deteriorating work conditions.
In response to some reverberations on the internet by just a fraction of the nursing workforce, the Tories took the threat of annual leave theft off the agenda. Imagine what we could do when we move as one mass organised collective.
It just goes to show how strong we really are and what a weak position the DUP-propped-up Tories are actually in. They retreat at the first sign of dissent. Well they haven’t seen anything yet!
This is why the naysayers, the jaded, and the weak leadership who say that “all nurses are apathetic and won’t change things” are completely wrong.
Nurses may have been milder in the past because of their dedication to their patients, but a mood is growing. Now that it has begun to gather momentum, that anger and resentment won’t stop at hollow words or even more hollow pay offers.
The RCN have somewhat menacingly said:
“If the NHS unions reject the offer, it is likely that pay recommendations would be made by the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) and as the £4.2 billion of extra funding agreed by the Treasury would no longer be available, the offer could revert to the 1% of previous years.”
Why should we capitulate so quickly to such blackmail? At first the Tories pretended they couldn’t fund this deal without stealing a day’s annual leave. Now suddenly they have said they are able to. This shows that we can easily put them on the backfoot, provided we are bold with our demands.
The unions are towing the Conservative line here. We are already at a loss of 15% of our salary. 6.5% over three years isn’t a victory of any kind.
Time for action
It’s time to turn the outrage into action. Join one of the 14 unions; call for emergency meetings; go to your branches; put forward motions for the changes you want to see; organise your workplaces; reject the Tory pay cuts – and help transform society for the better.
We have a responsibility on each of our shoulders as part of the biggest workforce in the UK.
And to those union leaders and others who insult the membership and say they’re not political enough: you never really know how far you can go until you’ve tried.
It is our time to reject this derisory offer and ballot for strike action. Don’t stand in our way as we attempt to better our future and the future of society.