Health conference agrees to back pay proposal

This is just the beginning of better pay for NHS staff, conference delegates hear as they vote in favour of ‘biggest pay rise in 15 years’ and Agenda for Change reform

UNISON’s health conference delegates today voted in support of the proposed three-year pay deal that is currently out to consultation with the union’s health members.

George Barron, vice-chair of the health service group executive, told conference: “What we have done is actually quite remarkable. We have come so far.”

During a lively debate, delegates discussed the proposed framework, which comes with an extra £4.2bn funding.

The motion in support for the NHS pay deal and Agenda for Change reform noted the work the union has done to “change the story on NHS pay” and offer members an alternative to the 1% maximum of the past eight years.

It notes that the deal meets other key objectives, including:

  • the abolition of band 1;
  • removing overlaps on pay bands;
  • fewer pay points and quicker progression towards the agreed rate for the job.

Mr Barron said that the proposed deal would help members “who have been left struggling day in, day out, week in, week out” as the government stuck to its 1% pay cap.

“We’re dealing with the government, not Arthur Daley on the street corner. This is the best deal through negotiation. It’s a good deal. The right deal. Let’s make it and get it in members pay pockets by June or July.”

Sam Kimberley, of University Hospitals Birmingham, told her fellow delegates: “There’s no doubt that this offer is not enough. No one would accept that it’s all that we are worth.

“But it does break through the pay cap, which was set to go on and on. And the biggest thing: it delivers for the lowest paid.”

And in supporting the motion, she added: “We have many colleagues on bands 1, 2 and 3 who are amongst the most poorly paid. They will get a big improvement to their living standards.

Have your say on NHS pay

“I don’t stand to benefit much at all, because I am at the top of my band. But searching my conscience, do I vote for what is best for me, or do I vote for what is best for all members?

“It’s a starting point. I don’t think we could have got any better out of a Conservative government.”

Mark Burn of Greater Manchester mental health voted against what he called a “divisive” offer.

“Some people get a reasonably good deal. But 6.5% for people at the top of bands – we have lost more than that over the last eight years of austerity,” he said.

He also feared that “over-zealous managers” would work to keep people at the lowest band points.

But young delegates noticeably supported the motion.

One, from Cymru/Wales, said: “Without this pay deal we would have nowhere to go. This is about supporting the future for our members.”

Another praised the fact that the pay increase was being funded with targeted cash, which would avoid putting a financial burden on trust budgets.

“This is huge. The NHS is struggling to recruit and retain staff. The offer will go a long way to making  people think about a career in the NHS more positively. And it relieves some of the stress felt by all of us.”

UNISON senior vice president Gordon McKay, from the Ayrshire and Arran health branch, reminded conference that just nine months ago prime minister Theresa May had “made clear her contempt for NHS workers” in asserting that the 1% cap would remain in place until 2020, while the pay review body had seriously considered a 0% pay award last year.

“The union said: ‘No more. No more zero, no more 1%’. We said we have one priority, to smash the government’s pay cap, and this union did it,” he told delegates.

“This is the biggest NHS pay rise in 15 years, which makes a real difference to people’s lives. Abolishing band one puts thousands in people’s pockets, mainly women, who have never had it easy.”

Mr McKay said that the decision to scrap band 1 in Scotland several months ago had already made that difference.

And George Barron added that Scotland was “living proof” of the benefits of scrapping band 1.

“This is not the end,” he said, “it’s the beginning.”

Branches are now urged to encourage full participation by health members in the consultative ballot.

If they accept the framework, conference agreed to continue to call for pay increases after three years, which will catch up with the value lost since the financial crisis.