Opinion

The future of the 1% pay cap in the NHS

Following a member survey in April, Unite has been given an overwhelming mandate to fight the NHS pay cap. Sarah Carpenter, Unite’s head of health, reports on your reactions and plans for the campaign.

With the outcome of the 2017 general election leading us into uncharted political territory, it seems hard to predict how the NHS – the services and the staff – might fare in the months and years to come.

What we do know is that the NHS is critically underfunded, and that cuts in services and jobs are happening now. The capping of the cost-of-living pay rise at 1% has had a huge impact on the ability of trusts to recruit and retain staff, which hits the care that the NHS can deliver.

Following the outcome of the NHS Pay Review Body report and in particular their decision to stick to the 1% cap, unions with members in the NHS surveyed their membership about what they might be prepared to do in response to this disgraceful policy. Unite did this as an electronic survey to all members we have email addresses for, spanning just over a week at the end of April.

Some 98% of Unite members who responded did not believe that the government’s approach to pay for NHS staff was fair. This is an overwhelming mandate for the union to build a campaign against the cap, and we are now talking to our regional health committees and occupational committees about how that campaign looks.

What did the survey say?

The survey gave us insight into what people would be prepared to do to fight the cap on pay. A total of 90% said they would sign a petition, and we are looking into this being a joint one with all the other health unions.

Some 64% indicated they would be prepared to take industrial action short of a strike (such as only working contracted hours, refusing to complete non-essential paperwork or not covering holiday or sickness absence), and 53% said they would be prepared to take strike action.  

At this stage neither Unite, nor any of the other NHS trade unions, are making any formal plans to ballot members, but that may be an option later in the campaign if this matter is not resolved.

Lots of members were keen to speak to others about the pay cap – 61% said they would talk to colleagues, friends and family; 58% would put up a poster at work; 53% would write to their MP; and 15% want to write to their local newspaper – and we will look to provide resources so this can happen.

There are also members who want to go further and get more active in the union to try and break the pay cap – 48% would encourage colleagues to join the union;
41% would attend a campaign event locally; 27% would attend a national demonstration; and 7% want to become Unite reps.

What can we do about it?

As mentioned above, other unions are also working to ‘Scrap the Cap’ (to quote the RCN’s campaign) and we want to use this campaign to work with those other unions at national and local level.  

Political pressure is also vitally important, and we will look to work with members across the public services to raise the issue of pay, and how important it is in the delivery of services, and the quality of care.

With the new political landscape following the general election, we have a chance to influence future policy on this matter, and must take every opportunity to do so.

Image credit: Alamy

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Following a member survey in April, Unite has been given an overwhelming mandate to fight the NHS pay cap. Sarah Carpenter, Unite’s head of health, reports on your reactions and plans for the campaign.

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