All NHS workers are asking for is fair pay

It is unacceptable that one in five health workers needs a second job to make ends meet.

It is unacceptable that one in five health workers needs a second job to make ends meet

NHS workers are on strike for the second time in as many months. This is not a decision that was taken lightly by UNISON members.

Last month’s strike was a first for many, and today even more workers are taking action.

Workers represented by eleven health trade unions are taking part in some form of industrial action this week; almost the whole workforce.

Anger is spreading and so is public support for our health workers’ cause. The strength of feeling is far from fading and the dispute is far from going away.

When the health secretary decided to reject the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommendation, he imposed a pay cut on 60 per cent of NHS workers.

These are the same NHS workers he uses when he needs to be photographed in a hospital. If Jeremy Hunt seriously thinks staff are the best asset the NHS has, he needs to treat them fairly. All he’s done so far is deny them a paltry one per cent increase and threaten them with job cuts.

We’re not even talking huge money or bonuses. We’re talking an extra £150 a year before tax for the workers who keep hospitals clean and prepare and deliver hospital meals, and the porters who are essential to keeping the NHS running.

We negotiated a deal in Scotland and in Wales, and both nations have now agreed to pay the Living Wage to the lowest paid in the NHS. So why is the health secretary so determined to penalise workers in England?

It doesn’t matter how many times government ministers say they are giving all staff a pay increase – the truth is they are not.

The independent NHS PRB has kept the industrial peace for 25 years. That review body recommended to the government a pay increase of one per cent for all, in line with the government’s own pay policy.

The PRB also recognised the connection between quality patient care and the morale and motivation of the staff that deliver care, and warned that not implementing the recommendation would impact on staff morale and engagement.

Inflation has continued to rise since 2011 and the value of pay has fallen by around 12 per cent. NHS staff already know this – they live the reality of this every day.

It is shocking that one in five health workers needs a second job to make ends meet. A full time hospital cleaner shouldn’t have to deliver pizzas in the evening to pay her bills. Despite some extra income, half still have to borrow to stay afloat financially or use overdrafts, credit cards, friends and family, or resort to pay day loans.

All we are asking for is fair pay in the NHS.

Our members are stopping work for just four hours to minimize the impact on patients. But somehow the government seems to be using this against us.

What we’re getting from the government’s refusal to negotiate a settlement is that when, and until it impacts on patients, it won’t take the action seriously.

So where does this leave us? Do the government want us to escalate the action until we cause real harm, or do they want to talk to us about a reasonable settlement?

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON. Read his blog

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