Unite NHS members in Greater Manchester were out in force today as they joined other health unions on the picket line in a dispute over pay.
The walkout between 7 am and 11 am was the second in five weeks. The large numbers involved demonstrated a clear signal to the government that those who keep the nation’s flagship institution running smoothly need to be properly rewarded for their efforts.
The Cameron-Clegg coalition has forced down NHS workers’ wages by 15 per cent since 2010. Worse is to come as after refusing to pay the measly one per cent pay rise recommended by the independent NHS pay review body, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has announced he will not be paying anything to NHS staff in England and Northern Ireland in 2015/16 either.
Such an approach stands in stark comparison to Wales where a cash strapped Labour administration has awarded a non-consolidated cash payment of £187 for this year and agreed to a one per cent increase in 2015-16.
In Scotland, trade unions successfully negotiated with the devolved government a one per cent consolidated pay rise this year and payment of an extra £300 to low paid workers.
“Faced with such a massive attack on our wages then what option have we been left with except to take strike action? asked biomedical scientist Liz Holland, a Unite workplace rep at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
“We have MPs handing themselves an 11 per cent pay rise and yet we have those who save people’s lives getting poorer. We have members using food banks, running up debts and being forced to do multiple jobs.”
Dedicated hospital staff quickly formed picket lines at 7 am. Everyone was in a good mood, proud of standing up for themselves and a service they desperately want to see survive. In addition to Unite a further eight unions participated including the Royal College of Midwives, out for just the second time in 133 years. The strikers were buoyed by members of the public expressing support and the constant tooting of horns by passing drivers.
There was also a lively picket line at the Royal Oldham Hospital where Unite rep Gareth Griffiths said, “David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt don’t want NHS workers to be properly paid so that morale remains high and staff can maintain a proper work-life balance.
“They want to squeeze wages so that the NHS becomes increasingly attractive to a takeover by private companies. Privatisation is bound to lead long-term to people paying for their operations.”
“We are fighting for ourselves and the future of the NHS as a public institution,” added Liz Holland.