'Warm words and applause are not enough'

Unite calls for an early pay rise for all NHS workers

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NHS staff and the wider public are still shocked that the majority of health workers – despite risking their lives working through the pandemic – have not received a pay rise, with no increase even on the horizon so far.

Earlier this week, the Treasury announced a pay rise for a select few public sector workers, with dentists and doctors the only health workers included in the uplift.

That means that more than a million NHS staff, a significant portion low-paid, have been totally excluded from a pay increase, including nurses, cleaners, porters, and many more — even as more than 500 health workers have died in the line of duty battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has justified denying the majority of NHS staff a pay rise 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.

But Unite alongside other health unions are calling for NHS staff to get an early pay rise in light of the sacrifices they made working during the pandemic.

And the vast majority of the public agrees – a new poll found that even a majority of Tory voters want all NHS staff to get a pay rise.

The survey, commissioned for campaign group 38 Degrees, found that 73 per cent of people who voted for the Tory government believe all NHS staff should receive a pay increase, while more than half – 53 per cent – of new Tory voters said their estimation of chancellor Rishi Sunak would go down if he failed to reward health workers.

The poll also found that 77 per cent want all NHS staff to receive a completely new pay rise, suggesting Tory voters believe health workers shouldn’t have to wait until next year to see the Agenda for Change pay deal reviewed.

Unite supported an Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by Labour this week to push through an early pay rise for all NHS staff. Now that all EDMs have fallen because Parliament has broken up for recess, Unite is pushing for another EDM to be put forward in September.

One change.org petition calling for all NHS workers to receive a pay rise has already received more than 80,000 signatures in a matter of only two days, while a separate 38 degrees petition on the same issue has garnered nearly 90,000 signatures.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe explained why an across-the-board substantial pay rise for health workers is so vital now.

“Warm words and applause are simply not enough for health workers, hundreds of whom have paid the ultimate price dying in the line of duty tackling this virus. Every single health worker working right now is risking that very same fate. It is only right that the government commit to immediate pay talks to show these workers – still working through a pandemic that is far from over – that they are valued.  

“Committing to an early pay rise also recognises the importance of pay in tackling the vacancies that exist across all sectors of the NHS workforce in every ward, team, department and clinic,” he added. “In this way, the delivery of an early pay deal can be used as part of the strategy for meeting the government’s recruitment and retention targets and delivering safer staffing levels for patients.”

Indeed, a Royal College of Nurses (RCN) survey published just last week 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.

Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say that Unite believes an early pay rise for NHS staff would “help the economy move forward given the size of the NHS workforce and the positive effect for local businesses of giving these staff more money in their pockets”.

He highlighted that the union is supporting an early pay rise for every single worker in the NHS, including those not directly employed.

“There are many workers who work in our health service but are not directly employed by the NHS – such as those employed by wholly-owned subsidiaries, non-NHS employers and private contractors. They have been just as instrumental in battling the coronavirus pandemic at great risk to their lives and they deserve a pay rise too.”

Unite is urging everyone to write to their MP to ask them to support an early pay rise for all NHS workers. Watch this space for a new campaign page where you can find out how you can help the cause of securing a pay rise for our nation’s heroes.

By Hajera Blagg

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