We need strike action to win a living wage for ALL health workers!
In a blatant attempt to disrupt the strike ballot by health workers, NHS Scotland and Health Minister Humza Yousaf have repackaged their wholly inadequate 5% pay offer as a £2205 ‘flat rate package’.
This offer does not put a single penny to that which workers rejected by a margin of 9 to 1 in consultative ballots over the summer. All it does is offer a rise of just over 10% to the lowest paid workers by forcing even more swingeing real terms pay cuts on the vast majority of staff.
The graph below shows how this pay offer will impact the salaries of staff through the pay bands. While this offer is even worse than the original offer for those on higher pay, it doesn’t even reach current inflation for any NHS staff.
Since the pay offer does not meet current inflation, all NHS Scotland staff are due to receive a real terms pay cut if the offer is not rejected and further action taken by the unions. The graph below shows the difference between the current inflation rate (12% RPI) and the percent increase in annual salary, for each of the NHS pay bands. There is no mistaking that this is a real-terms pay cut for all staff.
At a time when RPI inflation is 12%, the lowest paid NHS cleaners would get 11.31%, but a newly qualified nurse on the ‘entry level’ band 5 would shoulder a real-terms pay cut of almost 4% (after over a decade of declining real-terms pay).
The Scottish Government is blatantly playing ‘divide and rule’: pitting the lowest paid NHS staff against the average-paid. But health workers know that teamwork was essential to fighting Covid and protecting patients’ health. A recent survey revealed that two-thirds of nurses are forced to choose between food or fuel in the face of the cost of living crisis. We all deserve a pay rise!
NHS unions have a clear mandate from the August ballots to proceed with ballots for the strike action which is needed to face down this manoeuvre and force real improvement to NHS Scotland’s offer.
Most unions are doing precisely that, and are recommending rejection. Indeed, the Royal College of Midwives have already announced the results of their strike ballot: 88% of members voted to strike on a 61% turnout.
Unfortunately, the largest union, Unison, has not only failed to make any recommendation on this poverty pay offer, but has suspended their strike ballot. The grounds for failure to recommend rejection, that Unison is a ‘member-led’ union, makes no sense. Indeed Unison is firmly recommending that health members in England and Wales reject the government’s almost identical pay award there, correctly using the slogan “pledge yes for the NHS”.
Halting the strike ballot midstream will be taken as a sign of weakness by NHS bosses and a Scottish Government hell bent on making NHS workers and patients pay for the economic crisis and Tory austerity. The union should press ahead with the ballot and start planning seriously to coordinate effective industrial action not only with health workers south of the border but also with other groups of Scottish workers balloting, or already striking, to smash the SNP’s 5% poverty pay limit, including teachers, firefighters and ScotRail staff.