Health members look to ballot box and beyond to win battle over pay

UNISON’s health conference approves a renewed campaign strategy against the government’s 1% pay cap

UNISON delegates voting at health conference 2017

UNISON will use the general election to “ramp up” its campaign against the current government’s “scandalous” 1% pay cap for the NHS, health conference delegates agreed today.

They backed an emergency motion in Liverpool that addresses both the 8 June election and beyond with a plan to engage whatever government is elected with the union’s pay demands.

These are for an end to the 1% cap, a £10 per hour minimum wage and an increase of at least £1 an hour for all staff covered by Agenda for Change.

Conferenced noted that June’s election presents the union’s health sector with both potential problems and opportunities.

“The result of the election will at best present us with a new government with radically different ideas on NHS pay, which could be a benefit to NHS staff,” stated the motion, “or at worse a continuation of a pay restraint policy from a government emboldened by a new mandate.

“Whichever of the two results, we need to have a new reformed campaign strategy in place, so that we can immediately take up the challenge of fighting the 1% pay cap.”

In an impassioned debate, many delegates declared the importance of first voting against the Tory government on 8 June.

“A 1% pay offer to our members is scandalous,” commented service group vice chair George Barron. “It’s even more scandalous when MPs in Westminster are getting 3% or 4% every year.

“Get out there, vote for Labour. And if your friends also vote for Labour, there will be millions.”

Emily Heron of the Newcastle Hospitals branch said: “It does matter who members vote for in June. Their vote really does make a difference in the fight for pay.”

Pat Heron of the national women’s committee told delegates that women – who make up the majority of the health workforce – were caught in “a perfect storm” of benefit changes, higher bills, inflation and a 1% pay rise that amounted to a mere £5 a week.

“Some of our members are using food banks to survive, missing meals to feed their children,” she said. “Support the emergency motion, smash the 1% pay cap.”

Jane Lee. of Manchester Community and Mental Health branch, said that her colleagues were struggling to do demanding jobs while juggling higher case loads and smaller teams – and with more cuts on the horizon.

And she added: “The biggest fight we have on our hands is to get a Labour government elected. We’re the biggest union in the country working with the largest employer in Europe – we can have a massive effect.”

Whatever the outcome of the election, the union will work with other staff side unions to explore all options for breaking the 1% policy and “force the new government to develop a workforce plan underpinned by a fair and sustainable pay strategy.”

The emergency motion was accompanied this week by the service group executive’s launch of a new, sophisticated scheme to protect and refresh the Agenda for Change agreement.

Crucially, ‘Earnings Max’ will help branches to improve members’ take-home pay through proper application of AfC.

As national officer Helga Pile told delegates: “The aim is to get every penny that’s due out of the agreement and into the pockets of our members.”