The Socialist 18 October 2017 |
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Tories scrap the NHS pay cap: now fight for real-terms pay rises!
Nurses and doctors marching to save the NHS, 4.3.17, photo DavidMBailey Photography (Click to enlarge)
Beth Webster, nurse, Cardiff
Public sector workers have scored another victory against the Tories: the NHS pay cap will be scrapped.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the change on 10 October following a summer of protest headed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
But as with police and prison guards' cap removal last month, funding for the increase is likely to come from the existing NHS budget - and be below inflation: a real-terms pay cut. Hunt has alluded to a "productivity" deal, likely a euphemism for further cuts to fund the increases.
Meanwhile the NHS is heading towards another winter crisis. This January, the Red Cross even declared it a "humanitarian crisis" in England. The Autumn Statement is likely to exacerbate this with more cuts.
Hunt made his announcement on World Mental Health Day. In some areas, 20% of mental health nurse vacancies are unfilled, highlighting the consequences of capping pay as costs of living rise.
The NHS is plagued by staff retention issues. Workers are forced to either leave the service, or subsist on payday loans and foodbanks.
The Tories have been dogged by protests and even some strikes by NHS workers, such as the Barts Trust cleaners and domestics in east London and the RCN Westminster rally last month. Health workers will not tolerate Tory policies destroying care standards.
Popular anger, helped by the threat of possible industrial action by nurses, has forced this pitiful minority government into partial retreat. Labour has pledged to end the NHS pay cap and increase funding - but we cannot wait for Corbyn's rescue.
There is a danger that conservative union leaderships, such as in the RCN, will see Hunt's concession as 'job done'. This would be a mistake. Health unions previously demanded a 3.9% rise and must continue to fight for this.
The Trade Union Congress must act on its resolution to coordinate an offensive against all remaining pay caps - and if it won't, willing unions should.
Pay increases should be above inflation, and not funded from already meagre budgets. We need to build a mass movement, including strikes, to save our services and push the Tories out.