Healthworkers’ pay unity under threat

Nurses demand a national three percent pay rise - but this is a pay cut in real terms

LAST WEEK’S ‘fair pay day’ hospital lunchtime demonstrations in support of the healthworkers’ pay claims saw 415 actions around the country, according to Unison, the main health union, and it is very likely that some kind of industrial action will eventually be called.

The original claims were for between eight and fifteen percent for workers - nurses, for example - covered by the pay review bodies, and a “substantial rise” for others such as ancillary workers. The government response was to offer a derisory one percent to all Unison grades, with the possibility (strong probability, the government hints) of a top-up to three percent through local negotiations.

The call to demonstrate met with a varied response. Outside the Central Middlesex Hospital in Brent, London, around 100 healthworkers attended the rolling meetings, where the chants were, “What do we want? Eight percent!”

At Christie Hospital in Manchester, a number of doctors boosted the 150 workers present, despite the fact that their own claim has already been settled at national level. Workers are under particular pressure at Christie, which was named in a Labour Research Department survey published earlier this week as the hospital with the highest national percentage increase in waiting lists.

There, however, as in many other places, the demand was for “the full three percent” for all, with no local negotiations.

In Dundee City Square around 100 attended the protest meeting, including many workers from the city’s three hospitals, but again the accent was on achieving three percent nationally.

The nature of the official campaign is already undermining unity. Unison bureaucrats - seeing their own positions under threat if local deals are implemented - have dropped the original claim in favour of the supposedly unifying national three percent figure.

But if that is already on offer through a local top-up, many workers will question why industrial action is necessary.

Workers should not settle for a pay cut. With inflation edging towards four percent, they should insist on an increase far in excess of that.

Peter Manson