Health unions threaten strike action over NHS staff 3% pay award

Elliot Chappell
© Chris Marchant / CC BY 2.0
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“Another day, another U-turn.” That was Labour’s response to ministers announcing a 3% pay rise for NHS workers, following the heavily criticised proposal to offer them a 1% increase (a real-terms cut) earlier this year. “Once again, this government has had to row back on a shoddy, ill-thought through position,” shadow minister Justin Madders said last night. “The pay review body has done what ministers could and would not do: recognise that our NHS staff absolutely cannot be given a pay cut.”

While Labour primarily focused on the chaotic nature of the announcement, health unions said the increase is simply not enough. Unite branded it “grossly inadequate”. UNISON recognised that the 3% offer is an improvement, but said it still “falls short” of what NHS staff deserve after the past 16 months. GMB slammed the proposal as “insulting” and said it “fails spectacularly” to value health workers. The Royal College of Nursing explained that with the Treasury expecting inflation to be 3.7%, “ministers are knowingly cutting pay for an experienced nurse by £200 in real terms”. Unions will be consulting their members on taking industrial action, which means nurses in England could go on strike for the first time.

Sajid Javid said the pay rise was “in recognition of unique impact of the pandemic”, but that will leave other public sector workers facing a pay freeze, including most teachers, feeling short-changed. The National Association of Head Teachers has called it a “slap in the face”. Kate Green described it as an “insult” in light of Covid. “After the work they have done in the last year, teachers and school leaders deserve a government that is on their side, but instead the Conservatives are leaving them worse off and breaking a manifesto promise to raise starting salaries,” the Shadow Education Secretary added.

Green’s comments mirror Keir Starmer’s attack on Boris Johnson during PMQs. The Labour leader yesterday linked the various U-turns from the PM throughout the pandemic to his many other broken promises: bringing forward a plan for social care, not raising taxes, not cutting the armed forces and the aid budget. Laying the ground for a summer of flip-flopping as Johnson attempts to square the circle of delivering on his promised ‘freedom day’ while increasing numbers are told to isolate, Starmer highlighted the muddled messaging once again coming from government: “When it comes to confusion, the Prime Minister is a super spreader.”

One such flip-flop could be on vaccine passports. Labour has described the government’s plans to require the document for entry to certain venues as “unworkable”. Jess Phillips told Times Radio yesterday: “I just don’t think that businesses, like your local nightclub or local pub, would be able to police it, and I don’t think it’s fair on them.” The shadow minister added that it would be “better if it relied on testing rather than vaccination” as “doubly vaccinated people can still infect others”. Johnson is already facing internal strife over the proposals. Should it go to a vote in parliament, he cannot be sure he will have the numbers to force through the plan.

Labour has today launched its ‘safer communities’ campaign with a focus on ending violence against women and girls, investing in areas with high levels of antisocial behaviour and strengthening protections for victims. The campaign was supposed to start with a two-day visit to Wolverhampton, but this has been postponed as Starmer entered self-isolation for the fourth time yesterday after one of his children tested positive for Covid. The Labour leader still plans to hold a series of meetings and events across the country over the summer, however. “This summer, Labour will campaign for safer communities,” he said. “Labour will always prioritise keeping you, your family and your community safe.”

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