Health workers deserve more than applause for their efforts – not least during the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s why, yesterday and today, staff in UNISON branches based in NHS hospitals, ambulance stations and clinics are holding socially distanced events and using social media to call for a proper pay rise.
UNISON’s pay claim, which was delivered to Downing Street last month, would see every NHS employee receive an increase of at least £2,000 by the end of the year.
This early wage increase – equivalent to around £1 an hour extra for all staff – could give ailing local economies a much-needed boost as workers spend the extra money in their pockets on the high street.
With placards demanding “pay rise now” and “One team: 2k”, UNISON members across the UK are taking a stand.
Here’s some of what’s been happening across the regions.
Events taking place across the North West region include protests at hospitals in Blackburn, Prestwich, Burnley, Clitheroe and Pendle. UNISON North West also held a webinar, with speakers including Paula Barker, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree.
Michelle Tymon is a domestic at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. She is employed by a private contractor rather than directly by the NHS. Michelle said: “During the first few months of the pandemic, I was frequently working in the isolation ward for COVID-19 positive patients.
“We had to wear the full PPE with masks and gowns. Our job is hard enough as it is, but our shifts became even more physically draining. We were tired, hot, and sweaty.
“I really felt for the nurses and doctors who had to work longer shifts than us in the full PPE. We would all finish our shifts feeling exhausted. I often saw front-line nurses in tears outside the hospital.
“All NHS staff deserve a proper pay rise as soon, as possible and health service workers employed by private contractors like me deserve to be included. We keep the NHS running.”
A number of events are taking place across the Eastern region including one involving ambulance workers in Bury St Edmunds, a lunchtime activity involving staff at the Basildon and Thurrock Hospital, and another at Southend Hospital.
UNISON Eastern regional secretary Tim Roberts said: “Investing in the NHS and its incredible staff is a must for the government. It would help the health service tackle the mounting staff shortages that were already causing huge problems even before the virus hit.
“An early pay rise would also be the country’s best way of saying a heartfelt thank you to every single member of the NHS team.”
In the East Midlands, UNISON members are writing to MPs, holding virtual meetings and attending socially-distanced lunch time demonstrations.
Events taking place across the London region include letters to MPs and information stalls at various hospitals.
Samad Billoo is an emergency resource dispatcher who has worked for the London Ambulance Service for over 20 years. He is responsible for dispatching ambulances to 999 calls and, in his spare time, volunteers as an emergency responder.
During the pandemic, Sam says the call rate nearly doubled, meaning more work for him and his colleagues. Despite having only finished treatment for cancer in January, he chose to return to work in March – despite being advised to shield – to support his colleagues who were under extreme pressure.
Sam said: “We don’t do our jobs because we want to be clapped, we do it because we want to help members of the public. But we also want to earn a decent living and to be able to support our own families.
“NHS staff have shown amazing dedication throughout this pandemic, sometimes at a risk to their own safety. A proper way to thank us is to give us a fair and decent pay rise that we deserve.”
Activities in the South East included UNISON members at Wexham Park Hospital holding a socially distanced protest (pictured).
UNISON member Mark Inch is a trainee clinical scientist at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. Mark said: “A pay rise for my role would be much appreciated and recognise the sacrifices all NHS staff have made to care for patients throughout the pandemic.
“But for lower-paid staff who daily perform gruelling and dangerous tasks working in live Covid areas, a pay rise now is absolutely essential to help allow them a decent standard of living and to gain the dignity they deserve.”
Socially distanced events taking place across the North East include videos of support from MPs Catherine McKinnell, Liz Twist and Mary Foy, thank you packs being dropped onto wards at Newcastle Hospitals Trust, and actions at North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Trust and County Durham & Darlington NHS Trust.
UNISON member Ruth works working as a staff nurse at County Durham & Darlington Foundation Trust. She said: “The nursing staff having worked tirelessly during the pandemic are the only group of public sector staff not to receive a pay rise directly linked to working directly with COVID-19 sufferers.
“All members of the public l have spoken to find this grossly unfair. It would mean that my part-time salary would be boosted a little.”
In Northern Ireland, UNISON members held photo stunts across Mater Hospital, Ulster Hospital, South West Acute Hospital, Omagh Hospital, Craigavon Hospital and Royal Hospital.
Elsewhere in the UK, UNISON members in Scotland and Wales will begin campaign activity next week.
UNISON Scotland is part of a campaign for an early settlement of next year’s pay deal and the £2k award, and has welcomed an announcement that the Scottish secretary for health has agreed to reopen pay talks.
Health workers know the public backs an early NHS pay rise, and with early autumn bringing rising rates of infection, UNISON believes it is the perfect time for the government to show the high regard in which ministers say they hold NHS staff, and bring forward the pay rise due in April 2021.