Magic March

March was a momentous month for UNISON – and not just because of a breakthrough on NHS pay that could benefit a million health workers, though that isn’t a bad place to start

NHS breakthrough

Never let anyone say that campaigning and perseverance don’t make a difference.

UNISON’s fight to make the government act positively across public service pay has been long and hard. And it’s not over yet. But this month the union was in the news for spearheading a major breakthrough on NHS pay in England.

Health unions, employers and the government have agreed a proposed framework for a new-look Agenda for Change structure, after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations in which UNISON took a leading role.

The proposal goes to consultation with members in the middle of April. If they approve it, the new structure would bring over 100,000 staff above the living wage, and lead to long-overdue pay rises of at least 6.5% over the next three years for most staff in England.

The consequences would also include substantial increases to starting salaries, meaningful pay rises on promotion, faster progression through most pay bands and earnings increases of up to 29% for some staff.

“The agreement would mean an end at last to the government’s self-defeating and unfair 1% pay cap,” said UNISON head of health Sara Gorton, who was the lead pay negotiator for the NHS unions.

“It won’t solve every problem in the NHS, but it would go a long way towards making dedicated health staff feel more valued, lift flagging morale and help turn the tide on employers’ staffing problems.”

But our NHS members must now decide.

Celebrating apprentices

UNISON has been vocal about its concern that the government’s rushed approach to apprenticeships could create a ‘wild west’ atmosphere and leave young workers vulnerable to unscrupulous employers.

At the same time, the union does support high-quality apprenticeships and actively endorses employers that sign up to its Apprenticeship Charter standards.

And so, during National Apprenticeship Week at the start of March, the union celebrated some laudable apprenticeship schemes that it is supporting.

One of those was in Dorset, where Borough of Poole Council has an innovative network providing support and training for apprentices. With a joint approach from UNISON and the employer HR team, it is now being run by apprentices, for apprentices.

‘Go for it!’

There’s been a lot of positive feedback to our story about Elizabeth Bayliss and Kareema McCarthy, healthcare assistants in the East Midlands who are currently taking part in the pilot scheme to train a new kind of healthcare professional – the nursing associate.

The new role will sit between the healthcare assistant and registered nurse, with its own level of knowledge and skills. It involves two years’ training, both on the job and at university.

Halfway through their course, Elizabeth and Kareema talked about the opportunity the pilot has given them, their experience so far – a combination of hard work and inspiration – and their optimism for the future.

Kareema recalled her response when learning of the course: “I just thought, ‘Wow, I have to go for it.’ I wanted to get on that track.”

A boost for Manchester homecare

The campaign to win a better deal for homecare workers and their clients received a fillip in March, when Manchester City Council announced a £1 an hour rise for its carers.

The move means that homecare assistants – who are among some of the lowest-paid people in the city – will see their wage increase to £8.75 an hour, which is the Manchester living wage.

Graphic from the cover of the ethical care charter document

The council has also declared that home visits in Manchester will now be a minimum of 30 minutes.

Both the living wage and adequate care visits are enshrined in UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, which Manchester signed last October.

UNISON national officer Matt Egan commented: “This is fantastic news for low-paid care workers and shows the benefits of a council that is prepared to positively engage with UNISON’s campaigning work.

“We are slowly but surely challenging the idea that unfortunately took root in the UK that care work is a job that only pays poverty wages.

“The North West region of UNISON continues to do superlative work in ensuring that care work is afforded the respect and value that it deserves.”

York signs Ethical Care Charter

A further success for the Ethical Care Charter came when City of York Council agreed to adopt stages one and two of UNISON’s homecare call to arms.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition made the move at an executive meeting, after a passionate speech by UNISON convenor and branch secretary Andrea Dudding.

The decision marks the first time a Tory, LibDem or coalition-run council in England has signed up to the charter.

UNISON praised “a really good achievement from the branch, which has been campaigning on this for a number of years”.

Honouring a fine president’s legacy

Eric Roberts

Nominations are now open for the inaugural Eric Roberts Memorial Award. The organising award is open to both individuals and branches and will recognise success in the field of workplace and/or member organisation. Eric was a longstanding regional activist, NEC member and branch secretary of the London Ambulance Branch. His untimely death in November 2016 came as he was serving as UNISON president.

Marching against racism


From London to Athens, marches took place across Europe to coincide with the European Action Week Against Racism, an annual event that calls upon the international community to bring an end to racism, discrimination and intolerance. UNISON members joined thousands of people at the London march.