At a time of continuing pay freeze, increasing pension contributions, and spiralling living costs some astonishing national negotiations are taking place. In response to demands from employers for cuts to balance their books the NHS Staff Council is proposing to agree cuts to pay and conditions for NHS staff.
National negotiators from some NHS unions now suggest that we agree an initial package of cuts for April 2013 in the hope that it will dissuade some NHS employers from attempting to destroy large parts of our NHS pay, terms and conditions agreement, Agenda for Change.
Over the next weeks we will get information from different parts of the union about these proposals. Our branch leadership, made up of your fellow health workers, is firmly opposed to this deal. The proposals are below plus a branch commentary.
The proposed changes:
1. Incremental pay progression
Every incremental point should be subject to a competency gateway. Every individual worker each year will have to fight for his /her pay increment against a background of sharp budget cuts in every workplace. This is a bad policy for trade unions which work by promoting collective responses. On top of that it spells disaster for older members and those with disabilities or from BME backgrounds. Prejudice and discrimination should not exist but there is plenty of evidence it does. Already we know BME staff are much more likely to suffer more severe disciplinary sanctions than their 'white' British colleagues.
New clinical staff on band 5 currently get accelerated incremental progression – partly out of recognition of their rapid professional development on the job but also because of the heavy student debts most new clinical staff come with. This will be abolished.
3. Sickness absence
We will no longer be paid our average pay but our basic plus any R&R. The exception being staff on bands 1 and 2 and up to mid band 3 (£17253). People off work with industrial injury will be protected. This will hit hard nursing and support staff who work shifts. For example a nurse on permanent nights will lose one third of his / her sick pay. Clearly the next cut might well be to reduce sick pay for dayshift staff too – in the name of fairness.
4. Agreement on workforce re-profiling
This reaffirms that the down banding of jobs should be done by the book.
5. Senior posts
Senior managers on band 8c, 8d and 9 can be taken off Agenda for Change. It removes the commitment from senior managers to maintain the NHS pay system. Staff in these posts can also lose up to two increments.
This is a something for nothing ‘deal’ – there is not even a promise of no compulsory redundancies.
NHS Employers have failed to publish detailed figures justifying their demands. It’s difficult to identify quick, large savings for the employer from these proposals – however unions will agree that “The NHS Staff Council has a responsibility to ensure that terms and conditions continue to be responsive to the needs of the service” … The employers WILL be back for more.
History of the NHS cuts £15-20bn cuts over 4 years was announced by David Nicholson, the NHS Chief Exec in the dying days of the last Labour Government. It was never explained how Nicholson came to this figure but after years of vacancy freezes and savings in admin and management costs the figure is now ... £20bn!
Wot no money? Spend,spend, spend
£1bn so far in redundancy payments for staff made redundant as a result of the closure of PCTs and SHAs. Fabulously expensive management consultancy is being brought in to cover for these sacked workers and others throughout the NHS and fabulously expensive PFI contracts are bleeding the NHS dry. We really shouldn’t be handing over our pay and conditions to fund this.
DANGERS OF CONCESSION BARGAINING
In the USA the 1980's brought in a new era in negotiated wages and benefits. The changing economy and high unemployment levels caused weakly organised and poorly led unions to adjust their strategies in an attempt to save jobs and prevent further layoffs.
They bartered pay and conditions in return for promises of no redundancies. Redundancies continued and US living standards for working people have plummeted.
Pay proposals - the way forward
We need to continue the campaign to defend pay and conditions but with the clear understanding it is likely to be undermined by national and regional structures which we need to challenge through strong rank and file organisation, internal debate and the
election process inside our union.
We should also work through local staff sides to make sure the full range of arguments are heard by all staff.
Please to the AGM on the 18th January and remember strongly unionised workplaces with stewards in every department can best resist attacks.
Questions and answers on pay proposals
Q Do these proposals cover all NHS staff.
A No only staff in England. The level of union organisation and membership is higher in Ireland, Scotland and Wales and they don’t have Tory led administrations.
Q Are these proposals temporary or permanent?
A It’s a permanent reduction in our pay terms and conditions.
Q Are these proposals enforceable on the employers.
A They are not enforceable – legally each NHS Trust or Foundation Trust is a separate employer. They might feel themselves morally
obliged to honour this agreement for a time … but there are signs that some may not.
Q Might the employers come back for more cuts?
A The proposals explicitly include a commitment from national unions to further discussions
Q Are we getting a promise on jobs eg ‘no compulsory redundancies’ in return for this deal?
Q Are we getting a promise that there will be no more down bandings?
A No but they will consult with us first and they will down band us according to the rules – which is simple to do.
Q If we reject these proposals are strikes inevitable?
A We think that the employers will be reluctant to try to impose these cuts in well unionised workplaces because they will fear the response. (There are low levels of union membership in the South West which is why they are threatening staff there). We do
need to persuade everyone to join the union and every workplace needs a steward to feed back members concerns.
Q What are other unions doing.
A The RCN appears to be one of the main movers of the proposal to cut staff terms and conditions. RCN members may well choose to leave and join a union more independent of the employers. UNITE and the GMB are fiercely opposed to the proposals and are important allies.