On 8th June, health workers in England voted in favour of a three-year pay deal. The English deal involved a 6.5% pay rise across the next 3 years but, with the expected 3.6% annual rate of inflation, it means a pay cut in real terms. The deal also introduces performance-related pay progression; proposals to cut unsocial hours enhancements for lower paid workers and changes to sick pay.
Shamefully, the leadership of 13 health unions colluded with the Tories by recommending acceptance of this deal. Some even had the audacity to claim a victory when the government withdrew their original attempt to take a day’s annual leave from staff. This is simply not a pay deal, it’s a fundamental erosion of terms and conditions.
In Northern Ireland, there is currently no pay offer on the table but it is likely that a similar offer will be made here. On the 11th July, the Central Health Panel of public sector trade union NIPSA took the position of recommending rejection of any such deal here. This has proved to be a prudent position, as – despite the outlandish claims of 27% pay rises from some union heads – staff in England did not see the same translated into their wages.
This has understandably caused widespread anger and discontentment amongst health workers who are undoubtedly sceptical of the right-wing leaderships of the main health unions, who have failed to deliver in the past. For example, motions of no confidence in the leadership are now being advanced in the Royal College of Nursing.
In order to defeat any attempts to enforce a similar derisory deal here, workers must organise and act. Health workers in Northern Ireland already suffer from pay disparity with their colleagues in Britain and a decade of pay freezes and caps has cut the real value of workers’ pay and caused untold hardship and misery across the public sector.
NIPSA will be demanding that health and social care employers here implement pay parity plus restoration and an in-year pay increase above inflation. It’s therefore incumbent that a grassroots movement be established amongst health workers that will build a campaign to secure a decent pay deal that addresses the decade of pay cuts and inequalities faced by NHS workers, a strategy to include strike action if necessary.
Through the collective strength of the trade union movement, a powerful offensive can be achieved. The English pay offer is a con from a discredited ‘Con-servative’ government, unfit for purpose in Northern Ireland and one we will be robustly rejecting.
By Tanya Killen, NIPSA activist