The ground-breaking re-banding of health care assistants (HCAs) achieved by UNISON branches in recent months was celebrated by health conference delegates in Bournemouth yesterday, during a busy afternoon of Agenda for Change motions.
Campaigns on overtime, reducing the working week and protecting the NHS pension were among the other key topics discussed by delegates.
Among the re-banding wins, last year thousands of HCAs across Manchester received up to £5,000 in backdated earnings, after a six-year battle to be re-banded, from band 2 to 3, in acknowledgement of the fact they were carrying out clinical duties way beyond their grade and pay.
And this year the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust agreed to regrade nearly 100 HCAs, with members receiving almost £2,000 a year pay rises.
In proposing the motion ‘winning re-banding campaigns’, Conroy Lawrence of Greater London region (pictured below) told delegates that as a result of the London success, members were now receiving “the right pay for the job they are doing” and had witnessed their union as a force in the workplace, new members were joining, and new activists were stepping forward.
“These battles are winnable and what our union is all about. It’s important and our union is the only union that can win these campaigns in the NHS.”
Another speaker added: “This is putting pounds back in members pockets. It is a massive achievement. And most important, it’s member-led. It’s what we can achieve when our members are with us.”
They shared a story of one health care assistant who told her that she could now afford to take her family on holiday for the first time in 16 years.
But she added: “This is not just about pay, but career progression.”
Delegates agreed that re-banding campaigns could now be utilised to benefit other health workers, enabling them to be paid according to their knowledge, skills and expertise.
In passing the the motion, delegates called on the health service group executive to support regional health committees and branches to take “a more systematic and coordinated approach” to re-banding battles.
A further motion noted that while the Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign had focussed on HCAs, that focus now needs to “spread upwards through the rest of the nursing family”.
In a recent UNISON survey of nursing and midwifery members, many nursing members reported that their job descriptions were inaccurate, rarely, if ever updated and greatly understate the actual complexity of their role.
The motion called on the HSGE to launch a campaign to encourage nursing and midwifery staff to ensure their job descriptions are updated, and support them to ask for a banding review of their role has changed significantly.
Conference heard of the “burnout” experienced by so many health members, who have been working “unsustainable hours” under enormous pressure, and with the government constantly refusing to pay them accordingly.
As one delegate said: “We’re exhausted. We are at our limit. The system is broken.”
Against this backdrop, the strategy of reducing the working week, long a key goal of the trade union movement, has re-emerged in recent years, particularly as retention has become a key issue across sectors.
A motion on reducing the working week for NHS/HSC staff noted a global trend towards a four-day week, with no loss of pay, resulting in greater productivity, better work-life balance and a “win-win for workers and employers”.
And delegates approved a motion to pursue this goal for health members, charging their executive to:
- explore options for practical ways to implement the principle of 100% pay for 80% work with 100% productivity, in the 24/7 environment of the NHS;
- identify how the 100:80:100 principle could be best described in reference to Agenda for Change terms and conditions;
- include the 100:80:100 principle as a priority in future pay claims/negotiations.
The three NHS pension schemes, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, are a valued part of the NHS pay and reward structure, and an essential aid to recruitment and retention of NHS staff. Employer pension contributions represent a significant investment available to health workers.
However, conference heard that the cost of living crisis has resulted in many staff experiencing in-work poverty and, as a consequence, a significant increase in health workers opting out of their pension schemes.
One speaker told delegates: “The Tories are trying to destroy NHS pensions by forcing people out of it and making it unsustainable.”
Another added: “The pension is one shining light at the end of a long and sometimes painful tunnel. We need the Tories to keep their grubby hands off it. We need to protect the pension.”
Delegates called on the HSGE to work with other unions to seek improvements in pension scheme administration and accuracy of information given to members, to promote awareness and understanding of scheme benefits, and other measures geared towards promoting, defending and improving the NHS pensions.
Conference noted that many NHS employers have been ignoring the NHS pay, terms and conditions handbook on overtime, instead paying staff on bank or sessional rates, which are usually considerably less than overtime rates, with subsequent loss of pension accrual.
A composite motion ‘bring back overtime’ stated that this was being done “solely to circumvent Agenda for Change overtime pay rates and save money at the expense of staff – to make the workforce pay for underfunding of services.”
Delegates called on the HSGE to:
- lobby nationally for employers to stay within the boundaries set out in the AfC handbook with regards to overtime;
- raise the issue in the NHS Staff Council and devolved negotiating bodies;
- encourage and support branches to raise this issue with their NHS employers;
- design campaigns to organise around the removal of bank as a standard practice.
Images: Jess Hurd