Unite members working in the health sector reacted with anger alongside other public sector workers after the government announced on Tuesday (July 19) a public sector pay award well below the rate of inflation — now running at nearly 12 per cent.
The announcement, which covers NHS workers, teachers, police officers and armed forces, was met with fury from Unite and other unions, who have said the respective pay rises go nowhere near enough to address an unprecedented cost of living crisis which has hit public sector workers particularly hard.
More than one million NHS staff, including nurses, midwives and paramedics, will receive a pay rise of £1400, equivalent to just 4 per cent. Meanwhile, the lowest paid workers in the NHS, such as cleaners and porters, will receive a pay rise equivalent to nearly 9 per cent. But a TUC analysis shows that when factoring in inflation, every worker covered by the pay announcement will suffer a decisive pay cut.
The TUC analysis revealed that hospital porters will be £200 worse off in real terms this year, while nurses’ real pay will plummet by £1100 in real terms. Paramedics’ real pay will fall by more than £1500.
Unite rep and paramedic Debby Wilkinson highlighted the struggles those working in the ambulance service are already facing amid the worst cost of living crisis in generations.
“We do have colleagues in the ambulance service and in the NHS who are using food banks — and that is disgraceful at this time,” she told BBC News. “We’ve worked so hard over the last three years, especially during the pandemic, and yet we’re really suffering for it.”
Unite has highlighted that the latest pay announcement will not only amount to a significant cut for the public sector workers receiving it, but also for the already overstretched and underfunded services they run.
That’s because the Treasury has said that the pay award will be funded from existing budgets, with no new money being provided to cover them. This, Unite has said, will inevitably mean more cuts to frontline and other services.
Commenting on the latest pay announcement, Unite national office for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe highlighted the anger felt by Unite members working in health which could spur them to take action.
“Tuesday’s pay announcement for NHS staff amounts to pay cut for vast majority of NHS staff working in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” he said. “It does little to alleviate the cost of living crisis, and NHS workers will be forced to brace themselves further in October when the majority will see their contributions to their NHS pensions increase on top of another surge in energy prices which we expect. “
“Our lay members-led Health National Industrial Sector Committee will be meeting on Thursday (July 21) to consider our response to the NHS Pay Review Body pay award,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “This allows them to consult the membership they represent regarding what the next steps should be. For Unite in Health members, industrial action is an option because they feel they have not been listened to and their work has not been respected. Enough is enough.”
Although local government workers are not covered by Tuesday’s pay announcement, Unite national officer Onay Kasab said that they will expect a similar announcement about their pay later this month, around July 26.
“We will now be anticipating a similar kick in the teeth,” he noted in response to Tuesday’s announcement. “While we may expect it, we will not accept it. Where is the high wage economy that was promised? Perhaps they forgot to mention that it only applies to the executives whose average pay increased to £2.59m in 2021.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said Unite will unequivocally support its public sector members in their fight for fair pay.
“The government promised rewards for the dedication of the public sector workforce during the pandemic,” she said. “What they have delivered instead, in real terms, is a kick in the teeth. The so-called wage offer amounts to a massive national pay cut. We expected the inevitable betrayal but the scale of it is an affront.
“During the pandemic, public sector workers were correctly lauded as heroes,” Graham added. “They were sent out to deal with the pandemic and did so despite the imminent dangers they faced. Now they are being asked to pay for the crisis with this national pay cut.
“Unite will stand 100 per cent with our public sector members. We will defend them and we will fight for them, in all and every action they wish to take.”
By Hajera Blagg