Rights at work: time for cash, not claps

20 November 2020

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, sets out Unite-CPHVA’s position on pay. 

April 2021 will see the end of the three-year NHS pay deal that dictates the pay, rewards, terms and conditions of many community practitioners. Unite-CPHVA has made a claim for an early and significant pay increase of £3000 or 15%, whichever is greater. But how did we get here and what should you be looking out for in the twists and turns of this issue?

How is pay determined for NHS staff?

Agenda for Change (AfC), established in 2004, brought the myriad pay, terms and conditions of different groups in the NHS together under one roof. Most NHS employees are on AfC pay, terms and conditions. Exceptions are doctors, dentists and senior managers.

Pay is usually determined by the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB). This is an independent entity, comprising experts from a range of fields, that assesses the issues concerning the pay of NHS staff and makes recommendations for awards under AfC to government.

The UK Government and those of the devolved nations send remits to the NHSPRB. NHS pay in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is under the competence of each respective devolved government. Unite-CPHVA first submits written evidence to the NHSPRB and later, along with other trade unions, makes verbal submissions in an audience with the body’s members.

Once the NHSPRB has gathered evidence from trade unions and employers – and from its visits to selected NHS trusts and boards – it writes a report. This usually reveals the magic number of the pay award, which a government can then choose whether or not to accept.

Between 2010 and 2016, the UK Government set a remit for the NHSPRB of either a pay freeze or a cap of 1%. In 2017, the Conservative-led coalition did not ask the NHSPRB for a cap. Instead, it laid out the conditions for funding that made the current three-year deal possible. This led to negotiations between unions, employers, government and health authorities for the first time in years – and the biggest changes to AfC since its inception.

At the time of writing, the official position of the UK Government is to rely on the NHSPRB process, but it has still not submitted a remit. This year the Scottish Government will not be submitting a remit.

The Unite Health NISC adopted the position of seeking an early and significant pay rise: £3000 or 15%, whichever is greater

How did Unite-CPHVA reach its position?

Unite-CPHVA has been consulting its members though regional health committees, workplaces and branches since February, but the pandemic has also increased the public’s appreciation of the worth of health and social care workers. The nation taking to its doorstep to applaud their contribution each Thursday during the lockdown was the clearest manifestation of this.

Riding this swell of public support, health trade unions launched a ‘bring pay forward’ initiative at the start of July. We wrote to the prime minister and the chancellor (and the first ministers and ministers of finance of the devolved nations), seeking an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff. This was to take into account the tremendous efforts and sacrifices that our members had made during the pandemic and to acknowledge the morale boost and economic assistance that such an increase would provide, to both the workers and the nation as a whole.

Health trade unions have continued to campaign for an early and significant pay increase, while individual unions have chosen whether to adopt their own positions on NHS pay.

We believe that at least half of all NHS staff are at the top of their pay bands. NHS workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who haven’t changed job or been promoted in the past 10 years and have remained at the top of their bands over that period have seen their pay decrease by 20% in real terms since 2010. Contrast their fortunes with those of MPs, who have seen a real-terms pay increase of 2% since 2010.

Now that the applause for NHS and social care staff has stopped, they deserve recognition, credit and a decent pay rise. A £3000 or 15% increase wouldn’t reverse the freezes and caps of the past decade, but it would be a step in the right direction.

The Union’s position

The Unite in Health National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC), after discussion with health regional committees and professional and occupational committees, adopted the position of seeking an early and significant pay rise: £3000 or 15%, whichever is greater. In addition, our claim contains the following conditions:

  • The one-year deal should be fully funded and not taken from existing NHS budgets.
  • Any deal should not consist of a lump sum that isn’t consolidated into pensionable pay or other allowances.
  • The NHSPRB should be independent and free from government interference.
  • There should be an increase in annual leave entitlement to 34 days after 15 years’ service in the NHS and to 36 days after 20 years’ service.
  • There should be an Organisational Change policy for England providing a uniform way of dealing with down-banding and downgrading across England, as there is in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The definition of unsocial hours should change to 7pm to 7am from 8pm to 6am, as currently applied in the AfC terms and conditions handbook.

What will happen next?

At the time of writing, the UK Government had abandoned the announcement of a budget. As its comprehensive spending review has been put on hold, we don’t know what its public spending plans are for the coming three years. We are also awaiting its remit submission to the NHSPRB.

The Scottish Government has declared that it will not submit a remit and will enter talks with trade unions to settle pay for their NHS staff. It wants pay negotiations to conclude by March 2021 and has pledged to backdate the award to December 2020.

Unite will campaign for a £3000 or 15% pay increase. Along with other unions, we will be asking for this award to be brought forward from April 2021 and for discussions on pay to start as soon as possible. When the UK Government and the governments of Wales and Northern Ireland submit remits to the NHSPRB, we will be ready to put forward our evidence. We urge you to look out for any consultations that we will be asking our members to complete to aid this process.

We appreciate there are Unite-CPHVA members who sit on local government pay scales. Unite will campaign for equality across the pay systems.

For more information, contact your CPHVA local accredited representative or Unite the union district or regional office. The information and developments reported in this article were correct as of 23 October 2020.

Image credit | Alamy

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