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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Trade Unions and COVID

This week we focus on how Britain’s trade unions are responding to the impact of the COVID crisis on both the workers who have been laid off by it and those who have had to work even harder than normal because of it. This response has been concerned with both dealing with the immediate issues and looking ahead to the future.

FOURTEEN trade unions representing about 1.3 million health workers in Britain have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to demand that he speed up the pay negotiation process so that NHS staff receive a promised wage rise as quickly as possible.

The letter makes the obvious point that as hospitals are stretched to the limit many staff are “demoralised and traumatised” and facing burnout due to the pressure they are under. They optimistically urge him to intervene personally to speed up the pay review process given the scale of the challenge facing the NHS.

Citing a recent opinion poll, the letter adds: “The majority of the public want this to happen, and it makes economic sense as health workers would have more money in their pockets to spend locally. This would provide a much-needed boost for businesses when the lockdown begins to ease.”

They point out that health workers are presently having to provide cover for many colleagues who are off sick with COVID-19, or simply burnt out by the experience of intensive care units reaching full capacity and of patients dying.

The 14 health unions have responded to the NHS pay review body’s call for evidence, setting out the need for an early and significant pay rise for staff. Health workers are currently in the final year of a three-year deal.

In April they are due a pay rise, but unions demand that the Government back-up its fine words of appreciation for NHS employees by bringing it forward. It failed to do this last summer when wage increases for 900,000 workers elsewhere in the public sector were announced. A rise has now been promised by the Chancellor but not until after the formal NHS pay review body reports back in May. This is likely to mean that the NHS are not likely to get a pay rise until July at the earliest, claim the unions. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also said the increase must be determined by “affordability” and Rishi Sunak has warned of restraint in future public-sector pay awards.

The unions point out that independent data from the London Economics think tank show a rise is both affordable for the Treasury and would enable low-paid NHS workers to spend more money thereby giving a boost to hospitality, retail and other struggling sectors up and down the UK.


Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton and chair of the group noted that: “A wage rise won’t stop the virus. But it will show exhausted staff the government cares as much about them as it does about their patients.”

The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Donna Kinnair said: “NHS staff are worse off now than 10 years ago. When tens of thousands of nurse jobs are vacant, the government cannot afford to let more leave over low pay. A meaningful rise will bring in new nurses and keep experienced ones in post.”

Jon Skewes, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Over a million people work in the NHS. Putting extra money in their pockets would not just acknowledge and recognise their hard work, it would also put cash into struggling local economies and help families at a time when many will be facing mounting financial difficulties.”