Ambulance workers in Unison on strike in 2023. Photo: Mike Luff
Ambulance workers in Unison on strike in 2023. Photo: Mike Luff

Adrian O’Malley, Unison health service group executive, personal capacity

Unison health conference takes place at a critical time for all NHS workers. The NHS is in crisis, with the highest number of staff vacancies on record coinciding with millions of patients waiting for basic care. Staff morale is at rock bottom after years of austerity, followed by the Covid pandemic, followed by further austerity and increased demand.

Conference meets just a week after NHS workers should have received their 2024-25 pay rise. As has become the norm, the Tory government has delayed implementation of the pay uplift by pushing back the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) announcement to ’sometime in May’. This year, they have failed to even make their own recommendation to the PRB, falsely giving the impression that the PRB is somehow independent of the government and will come up with an award that will benefit NHS workers within the budget the service ‘can afford’.

NHS workers have seen through the sham of the PRB. Unison, Unite, GMB and RCN members are demanding direct talks with the employers over pay, terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the leaderships of the unions have been unable to agree a joint pay claim to the government. Each union is putting forward its own demands, but all are calling for a substantial above-inflation increase.

This is most certainly needed, with NHS workers’ pay having been devalued by at least 15% in real terms during the 14 years of Tory rule. Low pay within the NHS has become endemic. The increase in the national minimum wage to £11.44 has resulted in Band 2 workers being paid less than 1p an hour more than the minimum wage!

A substantial pay rise has become a necessity. This conference is Unison’s opportunity to take the lead and launch a campaign for a decent pay rise for all NHS workers, in particular the lowest paid.

We must build on the last two years of action within the NHS, and the 34% turnout in our last ballot in 2022, by ensuring that every branch smashes the 50% turnout threshold needed to take strike action. This means balloting as soon as possible. We cannot repeat previous years’ mistakes of balloting in October when the pay rise had already been imposed by the government.

Strikes that have taken place have delivered results. Thousands of Unison Health Care Assistant members have voted for strike action and have won campaigns to move on to Band 3, with back pay. Consultants won an average pay rise of 9% and junior doctors have been offered an average of 12.5% and are still in dispute. These are the type of pay rises that Unison should be demanding.

We should also be linking our campaign with Unison members in local government, schools and universities who are fighting the same fight against the same common enemy, the Tory government.

We need to fight for a strong, democratic and accountable union that involves and informs members. That’s why re-electing Socialist Party members to the health SGE is important.

We call on Unison to stand up to the government and demand direct talks on pay. Refuse to accept the remit of the Pay Review Body. Coordinate our claim and pay campaign with the other NHS trade unions. Launch a campaign among our members for industrial action immediately, and start the industrial action balloting process as early as possible to avoid members voting when the government has already imposed a below-inflation rise.

These are the policies we vote for every year at Unison health conference. We need to make them a reality!

We demand:

  • An inflation-busting pay rise and a campaign for pay restoration for all health and care staff including those in privatised sectors. A minimum wage of £15 an hour. Scrap zero-hours contracts immediately
  • Any pay talks with the government to include restoring sick pay and cuts to unsocial hours payments
  • A 35-hour week without loss of pay
  • We want the Tories out but we need a workers’ voice in parliament! Unison should support candidates that support our members and policies. Fight for a new mass workers’ party
  • Reverse all privatisations. Scrap the PFI and cancel the debts. Bring all outsourced workers and services in-house on a permanent contract
  • A fully publicly funded NHS and care system free at the point of use, under democratic control. Nationalise the private health care sector, medical supply industry and the pharmaceutical companies

The following Socialist Party members are seeking nomination for the 2024 Unison service group elections

Steve Bell, Adrian O’Malley

Local Government
Mathew John, Angie Waller 

Helen Couchman