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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Local Government and NHS Heroes

by New Worker correspondents

IN ENGLAND and Wales local government employees are getting a paltry 1.75 per cent pay rise, far short of their initial demand for 10 per cent and a very small increase on the 1.5 initially offered by the Management. Very low paid workers will be getting a less than generous 2.75.

In Wales, the principality’s Education Minister Jeremy Miles has said that so far as teachers are concerned this will come out of the schools budget. This say Unison Cymru Wales, is still a real terms pay cut. The union says that Westminster inspired freezes have left local government staff in general more than 20 per cent poorer than in 2010 and it demands that the Welsh Local Government Association join the unions to campaign for additional funds from the UK government to finance the wage rise.

Lianne Dallimore, chair of the Unison Cymru Wales local government committee, pointed out that: “local government staff have kept vital services like adult social care, school hubs and refuse collection going throughout the pandemic. We deserve more”. She said: “Welsh council employers told us they want to recognise our contribution but don’t have the money. Well, work with us to secure extra cash from Westminster which can be invested in staff and front-line services”.

In Scotland, Unison is campaigning to persuade its members in local government to reject an offer of a flat rate payment of £800 for all employees earning up to £25,000, a two per cent uplift for those earning £25,000 to £40,000, and a one per cent rise for those earning up to £80,000, capped at £800.

But some anonymous SNP ministers have been quoted as saying they are “not on a par with health workers and so could not expect a similar offer”. To this Unison’s Scottish head of local government Johanna Baxter said: “If these comments are true, they are a disgrace and nothing short of a slap in the face to every single local government worker across Scotland.

not on a par

“For government ministers to stand on their doorsteps and clap home care workers for their pandemic response, but then in private say they are ‘not on a par’ with their colleagues in health, is the height of hypocrisy and disrespect”.

Slightly better off are Welsh NHS staff who are getting a three per rise backdated to April 2021, the same as that for England. The Welsh Health Minister said: “This pay rise recognises the dedication and commitment of hardworking NHS staff and the enormous contribution they have made. It is also a recognition of how valued they are by Welsh communities…for our lowest paid staff, this means we have gone above the Living Wage recommendation of £9.50 an hour, demonstrating our commitment to NHS Wales being a Living Wage employer”. This has not been universally welcomed.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union says this was “bitterly disappointing”.

Helen Whyley speaking for RCN Wales said “the 3 per cent award is a long way off the 12.5 claim of the College, which would bring nurses in line with other professions and redress the fact that their wages have reduced over the last 10 years”. She added that: “it also does not recognise the commitment of nursing staff throughout the pandemic. It is our belief that there has never been a time when the need for an urgent and significant pay rise for NHS staff has been so great. A belief shared by so many people across Wales”.

Last week the North West London branches of RCN held a meeting with local MPs where irate nurses told them that the Government’s 3 per cent pay award felt like a “kick in the teeth” and warned that a mass exodus from the profession would follow unless changes are made now. They pointed out that in London alone there are already over 8,200 vacant nursing posts in the NHS and thousands more in social care.

Chair of the Inner North West London branches Audrey Sothcott said: “By giving our members a chance to tell their story we hope that local MPs will support our calls for better conditions and pay for nurses and healthcare support workers in Parliament. Our MPs should be equipped with real life experiences of nursing staff in North West London and it’s essential that they use our experiences to speak up for us in Parliament”.

Nationally the RCN has announced it is planning for a “summer of action” against the deal and has set aside a £35 million industrial action fund to continue the battle for 12.5 per cent.

Another union with many NHS employees is GMB who are now balloting on the offer. GMB National Officer Rachel Harrison said: “We have no hesitation in recommending members vote to reject the 3 per cent and no hesitation in supporting members if they want to take action. A miserly 3 per cent is simply not good enough. It’s another real terms pay cut and after the year health workers have had it’s downright offensive”.

She added that “GMB is calling for a restorative 15 per cent increase to make up for a decade of slashed pay under the Conservatives”.

three per cent

Over at Unison, recently elected General Secretary Christina McAnea condemned that fact that last year Unison submitted a claim for a £2,000 pay rise for all NHS staff to Downing Street only to be offered three per cent.

She said that “we’re consulting our members in health who are covered by this pay award. We’re also calling on private companies with outsourced NHS contracts to pay their staff an increase in line with directly-employed NHS workers”.

She took pride in the fact that “our members in health in Scotland have voted to accept an offer that delivers an average of 4 per cent” which the union campaigned to force the Scottish government to improve their pay offer. Ironically the traditionally more moderate RCN rejected it and are balloting for strike action.

McAnea urged members to reject the offer and said she had “written to the Prime Minister asking him to make the money available to fund fair pay, because councils have been drained of money for 11 years by central government”. That will sort him out.

not miss out

She also demanded that workers such as cleaners, porters, catering assistants and security guards employed by private companies but working in the NHS must not miss out on any pay awards.

Unison wants outfits such Serco, Sodexo and Mitie and those subsidiary companies owned by individual NHS trusts to increase hourly pay rates to at least match new NHS rates (known as Agenda for Change) so they are not left behind.

While things are bad for direct NHS employees things are worse in these companies. “NHS staff have the benefit of a national pay system but those not directly employed are missing out, often because of complex contracting arrangements, penny-pinching practices and the hard-nosed pursuit of profit”.

directly employed

In particular Unison wants all staff providing health services to be either directly employed by the NHS or on the same pay and contracts as those who are. It says all staff should also be paid at least real living wage rates (£9.50/£10.85 an hour). Ministers should ensure any pay rise is fully funded so it covers staff working for private contractors on NHS premises, and that Trusts should only award contracts to those private firms agreeing to match NHS pay rates, and other benefits, such as sick pay and pensions.

Balloting for industrial action is underway in both the local government and NHS, but thanks to Tory laws that is a long drawn out process with the results not being known until mid-September. We can only speculate on what the outcome will be. While there have been some militant demonstrations by all ranks of health workers the recent elections for the general secretaries of both GMB and Unison unfortunately did not indicate a great upsurge in militancy.

However the latest issue of the trade paper for nurses, the Nursing Times, interviewed a number of activists who seem willing to take industrial action. Graham Revie, chair of RCN’s Trade Union Committee and himself a senior charge nurse, said the imposed 3 per cent “will not meet members’ needs, this will not meet the needs of recruiting and retaining staff in the NHS [and] it will certainly not do anything to address the tens of thousands of workforce shortages we have”. And Holly Turner, a learning disability nurse, who is also a leader of the NHS Workers Say No grassroots campaign said the “appetite was there” for strike action.

do not keep pace

Even the NHS Pay Review Body agrees that nurses’ pay is too low. It recently pointed out that earnings in nursing “do not keep pace with other graduate earnings over the course of a career”. Although nurses earned more than the average graduate in the first year after qualifying, their pay soon falls behind when they become more experienced, it said. After 10 years, a nurse will be earning below the overall graduate median.

The Nursing Times also quoted a senior clinical research nurse in Nottingham, who complained she had been stuck on the top of band 6 for 20 years because she had not gone into management. She said that she had recently been asked whether she had needed to use a foodbank but believed the only reason she had not was because of the generosity of her family when she needed support.