Unite members working for the NHS will be leading a protest on Downing Street tomorrow (July 29) to demand an early pay rise after having been excluded in the latest round of public sector pay increases.
NHS staff – a majority of whom were left out of the public sector pay rise announced by the Treasury last week – are angry that their sacrifices working through the pandemic have not been rewarded, especially in light of the fact that hundreds of their colleagues in health and social care have died in the line of duty after contracting coronavirus.
The Unite branch at Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital will be marching to Downing Street at 6pm tomorrow from St Thomas Hospital, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7EH, to protest the government’s decision to put off a pay rise for NHS staff until April next year. They will be joined by NHS staff from across London.
The government has justified denying the majority of NHS staff a pay rise last week by noting that they are part of the Agenda for Change pay deal struck in 2018 and the pay deal isn’t due to expire until April next year, when their pay will be reviewed.
While dentists and doctors were part of the pay rise announced last week – which included 900,000 total public sector workers, comprising less than a fifth of the entire public sector workforce – a majority of NHS staff were excluded, such as nurses, paramedics, cleaners, porters and many more.
The government has highlighted the ‘average 4.4 per cent’ pay rise that NHS staff received who were part of the Agenda for Change pay deal, but nurses have noted that because most frontline nurses, for example, are on a band 5, they received less than a 2 per cent pay rise.
A new poll shows that the Tory government faces a backlash from its supporters if it does not stump up cash for a pay rise for NHS workers, with almost 4 in 10 Tory voters saying the government ‘will have broken its promise’ if it doesn’t give health workers a pay rise.
Indeed, the government has long promised to reward NHS staff for the sacrifices they made during the pandemic, with health secretary Matt Hancock noting as far back as May, “When it comes to how we reward people for their efforts in this crisis, what I can tell you is that as the Health Secretary I will be making sure that we fight to have that fair reward.”
But so far health staff have been let down and many are so fed up at how they’ve been treated that they feel forced to quit, which has raised fears that already-existing NHS staff shortages will only become worse.
A Royal College of Nurses (RCN) survey published less than two weeks ago found that a shocking one in three nurses said they were thinking of quitting – and gave low pay as the top reason. Another 44 per cent of those surveyed said they wanted to leave the profession because of how they were treated during the pandemic, while 43 per cent said they wanted to call it quits because of low staffing levels.
Commenting ahead of tomorrow’s demonstration, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “Nursing staff and other allied health professionals have reacted with anger to being overlooked when pay rises were given to many in the public sector last week and the government not hearing the health trade unions’ call to bring their pay rise forward from April 2021.
“This sense of anger was heightened, especially in light of their work and sacrifices during the global pandemic which has taken the lives of more than 500 NHS and social care staff across the UK.
“We are facing a perfect storm for recruitment and retention in the NHS – in a decade of Tory austerity, NHS staff have seen their pay cut by 20 per cent in real terms and many are considering leaving the health service; at the same time, there are about 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone,” he added.
Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say that the crisis is also “being exacerbated by the scrapping of the student bursary, which is putting off many who may have considered becoming one of the next generation of nurses.
“What we have seen in the last few months is generous praise, warm words, and lots of Thursday evening clapping by ministers; yet we got a flavour of the government’s true feelings with Rishi Sunak’s lack of a pay announcement for NHS staff last week, with no statement dealing with our call to move the pay of NHS workers forward,” he noted.
“The public expects – and ministers should deliver – a substantial pay increase for NHS staff that reflects their real worth to the NHS and society more generally. NHS workers shouldn’t have to wait till April 2021.”
Unite branch secretary Mark Boothroyd, whose Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital branch will be marching at the demonstration tomorrow, added, “We have called this demonstration to express the anger that so many of our members feel at the government’s derisory treatment of NHS staff.
“After all our sacrifice during the pandemic, to exclude us from the pay deal and make us wait till April 2021 is a slap in the face, and our members are going to Downing Street to tell Boris Johnson this directly.”
Unite is calling on everyone to write to their MPs and demand an early and substantial pay rise for all NHS staff. You can find out more on our campaign page here.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more UniteLIVE coverage of tomorrow’s march.
By Hajera Blagg