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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Health pay battles

by New Worker correspondent

PERHAPS taking their lead from last week’s report that workers at Chorley and South Ribble were balloting for industrial action, all 14 unions in the National Health Service have written to the Prime Minister demanding a pay rise for all NHS staff before Christmas.

The unions, from minnows such as British Association of Occupational Therapists and the British Dietetic Association, through the College of Podiatry and the Society of Radiographers, to the giants of Unison and Unite, warn that the second coronavirus wave has already placed hospitals under immense strain. They warn that staff are “stressed, burned out and fearful” after the first wave, and that asking them to carry on regardless is “increasingly unrealistic”.

feel valued

Although NHS workers were not due a pay rise until next April, the unions say an early increase would help employees “feel valued, by the entire country, and the government too”. In particular, they say a pay rise is essential to persuade staff planning to leave the NHS to change their minds and would also “prove attractive to thousands of much-needed potential NHS recruits”.

In the letter the unions remind the Prime Minister that staff do their jobs because “they’re passionate about making people well again, and because they want to make a difference”. They point out however, that giving them a wage increase is “morally … the right decision to take” adding that “it’s time to do more than praise their courage and dedication”.

Unison’s head of health and chair of the group of unions, Sara Gorton, said: “The NHS can’t run without its staff. They all deserve better from porters to nurses. Their dedication during the pandemic has been humbling. But no one is superhuman and many are feeling the strain. Boris Johnson must show he has a heart with a pay rise before Christmas.”

The same union’s South East Regional Secretary, Steve Torrance, said: “Health workers are exhausted from the first virus peak. They’re now dealing with the second wave and a backlog of cancelled treatments.”

A “Clinical Scientist” from Portsmouth told the Hampshire Chronicle that: “If you were to tell the average person on the street, to work for 13 hours, while wearing a mask, visor, gloves and gown in stuffy conditions, all while surrounded by a deadly virus, most would refuse.

smiling

“However, the NHS has people who sign up to do this for well below the average UK wage. And yet they turn up smiling, happy to help those in need, despite sometimes struggling to budget what little pay they receive.”

Unison’s Welsh regional secretary, Karen Loughlin, condemned the local Tories for being “fond of saying NHS pay is the concern of Welsh Government. They pretend Wales could afford a big boost to healthcare workers’ wages without Westminster providing substantial additional funding. From the unequal treatment on furlough to the size of the devolved budget, people in Wales get a shabby deal from this Tory Government who have shown they don’t value our dedicated health workers.”

incredible

From the Royal College of Midwives, Jon Skewes added: “Midwives, maternity support workers and all our NHS staff do an incredible job day in, day out, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. And never has that been more apparent, more needed, or more valued than now. There was a compelling case for an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff before the pandemic, and their dedication, commitment and professionalism make that a cast-iron one now.”

Boris Johnson, however, is more likely to heed the call of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which is funded by the British American Tobacco corporation amongst others, who say that NHS workers should be grateful to have a regular salary and “some non-essential NHS workers have been left twiddling their thumbs for the better part of the year” as almost all NHS services were cancelled during the first lockdown in spring.

Christopher Snowdon, head of “lifestyle economics” at the right-wing institute, had the brass neck to say “not only was it cynical” for what he called non-frontline staff to demand a pay rise, it was also economically impossible at present.

In the private healthcare sector a battle is brewing at BCM Ltd, where bosses say pay will be frozen. Based at the Beeston-based headquarters of Boots the Chemist, BCM Ltd is part of French firm Fareva, which supplies skin care and pharmaceutical products for Boots.

Around 300 of the 800 workforce have voted to take industrial action in a ballot organised by shopworkers’ union USDAW.

National officer for the sector, Daniel Adams, said: “Despite USDAW indicating we were willing to consider various options and compromises to reach agreement, at no time have the company put forward any offer other than a pay freeze, nor shown any willingness to compromise, in an attempt to achieve a negotiated resolution to our discussions.

deserve better

“Our members have continued to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic, without additional reward or recognition, and, understandably, believe they deserve better. It is incredibly disappointing that we have found ourselves in the position where we feel we have no option but to ballot for industrial action.”

He added that: “Having balloted our members on the company’s final offer of a pay freeze, which was overwhelmingly rejected, the union had agreed to pause discussions given the onset of the coronavirus pandemic” but that “when talks resumed, the company continued to refuse to make any offer in relation to pay.”