By Alice Hazel
It looks like the government’s pay “award” for NHS workers will be 3%. Maybe only 1.5% will be a basic ongoing increase, and the other 1.5% a one-off payment.
This falls way below all the claims the unions put into the Pay Review Body.
Three per cent does nothing to address the real-terms pay cuts faced by NHS workers over the last 10 years, or the 100,000 vacancies that are taking many workers to breaking point and crippling NHS services.
After a more than a year of extraordinary effort and current escalating pressures NHS workers will feel this as a body blow. The government are confirming, what many NHS workers knew, the applause piled on NHS workers by politicians at the height of lockdown was complete hypocrisy.
The Tories have tried to convince us that this has been a collective sacrifice across society, but that is a lie. Those who already had extreme wealth and were in a position to benefit from the emergency have thrived. Inequality has risen.
The wealth is available to pay for a recovery that includes massive funds allocated to public services, including well-supported healthcare. The government can make the political decision to tax the rich, to invest in the NHS, including the 15% pay rise for NHS workers demanded by rank-and-file NHS workers’ groups since mid-2020. They can do that. But they won’t without a fight from NHS workers.
Activists will organise local protests to re-raise the demand for 15%.
We will also call on our trade unions to make an immediate stand — rejecting this pay award and moving quickly to ballots for industrial action, with firm commitments from the union leaderships to reject and organise.
The Royal College of Nursing, a conservative union relatively strong among nurses (and with a combative minority within it), has declared that it will require majorities in three successive ballots before strikes. That is a plan to derail any chance of action. Members of trade unions should demand formal industrial action ballots by then end of the summer at the latest.
We don’t want to take action just as a release from frustration. We want to win decent pay and save the NHS from Tory privatisation.
That means a campaign that involves strike action, co-ordination across the health trade unions, building solidarity in the labour movement and across our communities. Within the big unions — RCN and Unison — we should be calling for disaggregated ballots to give us the best chance of reaching the trade union legislation thresholds. Winning ballots in as many workplaces as possible will give us the possibility of nationally co-ordinated action which can escalate with time.
We need to act quickly. Without pressure from below the unions won’t mount a serious fight. As many in the NHS have said: “if we can’t fight now, then when will we?”