Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 36, September 19, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Nurses Upsurge Against Pay Injustice

Support Health Workers in their Ongoing Campaign for Safe Working Conditions and Pay Equality

Protest march in Brighton

As well as health workers demonstrating their determination to win pay equality with other public service workers, as they did on August 8 and September 12 [1], Unison is taking up a campaign for an across the board £2,000 pay rise for health staff.

The campaign involves health workers, including including nurses, paramedics, cleaners, domestics and porters. The demand is for an early, significant pay rise of at least £2,000 for every worker in the NHS. Staff in Unison branches based in NHS hospitals, ambulance stations and clinics themselves took part in a two-day campaign of action, using social media and participating in socially-distanced events. No matter how much applause that health workers have received for their efforts during the pandemic, the fact is that they are considered as and treated like a cost to the system by the government. This itself is a major factor in causing stress and illness among the health workers, as their voices are raised to demand safe working conditions and a pay level commensurate with their workload and their dignity.

The main London rally began with a silence for health workers who have lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic

Unison's pay claim was delivered to Downing Street last month. It is a claim that every NHS employee receive an increase of at least £2,000 by the end of the year. Now is the time for health workers' worth to be recognised by the government, now is the time for an end to the attack on their rights and livelihoods, and to demand that their experience and expertise be heeded.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: "Infection rates are rising in care homes and out in the wider community, and hospital admissions are on the up. The pressure on staff is beginning to build again, as the NHS tries to open services shut earlier in the year and deal with the backlog of cancelled appointments and operations. That's why now would be the perfect time for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to show they can do more than clap for NHS staff, and demonstrate their appreciation in a much more practical way."

Sara Gorton further pointed out: "Boris Johnson's pie in the sky plans for any time, any place, anywhere 'moonshot' testing would cost a mind-boggling £100bn. An early pay rise for NHS staff would be a tiny fraction of that and would make a huge difference to individuals and the services they help provide. Investing in the NHS and its incredible workforce 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."

Many health workers are also discussing and taking stands against the ongoing privatisation of the NHS. More and more health contracts are being awarded to private sector organisations, taking nursing, medical and other direct health care away from the NHS and putting it into the hands of profit-making companies.

A particular scandal is the Test and Trace system itself. Two private firms, Serco and Sitel, were awarded contacts worth £84m and £108m respectively. The system has proved disastrous and shambolic. It would be farcical if it were not so serious. Yet the contracts for both companies include clauses that would protect the firms from any penalty even if failing targets set by ministers.

Despite including an obligation to deliver a set minimum quality and performance, it adds: "For the avoidance of doubt, service penalties are not applicable." And even in the event of what is described as a "critical service level failure" the companies would be offered a "remedial plan" to allow them to continue. "The performance review meetings and reports shall be used to identify a Critical Service Failure," the contract states. [2]

This insidious privatisation is not helped by the new "Integrated Care System", which fails to address the problems created by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and the market economy. The long-term threat is obvious - this new mega "Integrated Care System" which spans from Cumbria across to the North East and down to Whitby will prove very attractive to multinational corporations.

The voice of the workers must be heard. Instead, as has been the case in education where the concerns and solutions of teachers, support staff and their unions was ignored and trampled on by the government, health workers are being treated in practice with contempt. This is being further shown by the fact that, in the reckless move to abolish Public Health England (PHE) [3], the creation of a new National Institute for Health Protection that would bring together PHE, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre under the interim leadership of Baroness Dido Harding, is being undertaken without reference to health unions and professional bodies. [4]

There is ongoing concern among health workers about their jobs and the services they provide, particularly how the safety of staff and patients alike are safeguarded and that their own well-being is looked after. Health workers have made so many sacrifices to provide the best possible health care under the circumstances of the pandemic. They are determined that solutions be implemented that can alleviate the crisis for the benefit of all. Health workers also require the time and space to exchange views on the situation, speak in their own name and assess what can be done to block the attacks on workers and the public and to provide a new direction to the NHS.


1. On September 12, campaigners in central London, many wearing scrubs or other NHS uniforms, held banners which read "stop clapping, start paying", "priceless yet penniless" and "640 healthcare workers dead, blood on their hands" alongside images of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Demonstrators began a march to Trafalgar Square after a two-minute silence in honour of 640 healthcare workers who have died during the pandemic.
The protest comes after nurses were excluded from the wage increase for around 900,000 public sector workers announced in July because they are in the final year of a three-year agreement. The pay increase does not apply to junior doctors after they agreed a four-year deal last year. Nurses on the march questioned why the government promoted the "clap for carers" events but left them out of the public sector pay rise, despite many of them leading the line in the continuing fight against coronavirus.
Protests calling for a 15% increase in pay for NHS workers were also held in Manchester, Sheffield, Brighton and Bournemouth.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent his support to "all of our wonderful NHS workers", saying: "NHS staff are absolutely brilliant but have suffered a pay freeze, under-funding and under-staffing. Yet when the coronavirus crisis comes along, they are all there working hours and hours more than they were paid to do - care workers doing exactly the same. Now is the time to pay them properly and secure jobs for the future in the NHS."
Grassroots groups including NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality, NHS Staff Voices, Keep Our NHS Public campaign, Nurses United UK and Unite Guy's and St Thomas Hospital Branch have backed the protest.
Rachel Harrison, national officer for the GMB union, said: "Loyal and dedicated NHS workers have been let down in the three-year NHS pay deal - which GMB union opposed. Their pay, terms and conditions have been driven down for years. Many staff have worked throughout the coronavirus pandemic and now their efforts need to be recognised with a pay award that reflects their commitment and the real-terms losses they have suffered during a decade of austerity."
Unite the union said that NHS workers should receive a pay rise of 15% or £3,000, whichever is greater. The union said the claim would "restore the pay that NHS workers have lost in the decade of austerity since 2010".
National officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: "Hundreds of health and social care staff have lost their lives in the continuing battle against Covid-19 which has heightened the deep appreciation that the public has for the NHS and those who work in it. This public esteem for NHS workers should be reflected by the government which needs to respond by opening pay discussions, following our claim and those of our sister unions."
(ITV report)

2. Source: Health Service Journal as reported in PoliticsHome

3. See "Government Goes from One Reckless Decision to Another":

4. Eleven unions and professional bodies representing workers in Public Health England (PHE) have written to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock expressing alarm at the lack of consultation in the creation of new body the National Institute for Health Protection.
The letter says: "We are alarmed by the creation of the National Institute for Health Protection without properly consulting expert staff and without a clear plan for the future of large swathes of PHE."
The letter warns that abolishing PHE and creating a whole new body at this time could distract from vital pandemic work. The letter seeks assurance that workers in PHE will be: "supported at this time and can focus on the vital public health work they are undertaking".
The unions also ask for guarantees on funding and independence: "We urge you to ensure that we have an adequately resourced national public health system (including laboratories) with sufficient capacity, resilience and access to data, research and analysis over the long-term to address all domains of public health effectively."
"We seek a binding commitment to the independence of the National Institute for Health Protection and public health professionals and their vital ability to speak truth to power and to the public at a national, regional and local level."
Finally, the letter seeks commitments from the health secretary that jobs, skills and capacity will be protected, there will be no compulsory redundancies, and that staff will be free to move from PHE into the new body with protected terms of employment.
(Union News report)


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