A summer of discontent across the NHS in England and Wales was threatened yesterday by Unison, the public service union, in protest at a below-inflation pay increase.
John Carvel, social affairs editor
Tuesday April 24, 2007
From The Guardian
Representatives of the union's 450,000 health workers voted unanimously at their conference in Brighton to ballot for industrial action up to and including strikes.
Delegates decided to give Gordon Brown, the chancellor, a chance to rescind his decision to withhold part of a 2.5% pay award that was recommended by an independent pay review body. If he does not do so, the union will proceed to ballot.
Nurses, paramedics and other health workers in England and Wales got a 1.5% pay increase this month and will get a further 1% in November. Averaged over the financial year the deal was worth 1.9% and the health unions said it was tantamount to a pay cut in a period of accelerating inflation. Health workers in Scotland were awarded the full 2.5% this month.
Last week the annual conference of the Royal College of Nursing voted overwhelmingly to ballot for industrial action if the government does not pay the award in full, but it did not specify whether the action would include strikes. And yesterday the Society of Radiographers, also meeting in Brighton, asked its governing council to consider industrial action.
Karen Jennings, Unison's head of health, said: "We have over 450,000 members in the NHS and the government ignores this growing wave of anger at their peril. We are not prepared to accept a pay cut and we are not alone in rejecting this paltry pay offer. We will unite with other health unions who have rejected the offer and with public sector unions fighting for a fairer pay deal ... it's time for the government to stop trying to defend the indefensible and to start listening to the largest workforce in Europe - the NHS."
Mike Jackson, the national officer, said: "We have a system of pay determination that we expect to be honoured. We don't expect the government to rip up the arrangements." The unions were not happy with the original 2.5% offer but staging the award had made it much worse.
He said porters, cleaners and other low-paid NHS workers were expecting a similar staged offer on Friday, but will reject it.
Janet Maiden, a nurse from University College Hospital in London, said: "There are over one million health workers and we could all take action together and show Tony Blair's replacement that we will not tolerate putting up with this any longer. Let us give this government a summer of discontent."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The award represents a sensible increase." Andy Burnham, the health minister, is due to address the Unison conference today.