Holly Johnson, Nursing Sister, NHSPAY15 campaigner and organiser
NHS workers in England were meant to receive a pay rise on 1 April, but the whole process has experienced significant delays. We are now expecting the Pay Review Body (PRB) to make its announcement sometime in May or June. Then, the government will announce the final offer – although Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced a measly 1% increase, effectively a pay cut.
On 1 April, the grassroots campaign ‘NHS Workers Say No!’ launched a #stepupstarmer campaign. Over 100 individuals and organisations signed an open letter urging Labour leader Keir Starmer to support an immediate restorative NHS wage increase of 15%, after a decade of real-terms pay cuts.
Instead, Starmer has suggested a 2.1% rise. The Socialist Party signed this letter and has backed the 15% demand all the way.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, many members in the health trade union Unison are angry that its leadership is recommending acceptance of the SNP-led Scottish government’s ‘generous’ 4% offer, when members have been demanding a full 15% increase.
Although the number of Covid hospital patients has reduced significantly, we are playing catch up with waiting lists and dealing with the consequences of delayed care. Staff still haven’t had a break or recovered, and feel devalued by the predicted pay offers. Many are considering leaving. Some are dealing with long Covid, such as myself, and unable to work the hours previously contracted to them.
As we wait for the PRB to make its announcement, we continue to build and engage health workers in the outward fight. They are realising that there is a need to organise themselves to ensure that pay is restored in order to raise and maintain staffing levels so that patients can be cared for safely.
The trade unions have been getting ballot-ready and ‘NHS Worker Say No!’ is working with them to aim for a coordinated strike ballot. The unions’ engagement with members is essential in being ready to strike, and we must hold firm and keep the pressure on from below.
As we move into the summer, it is important that we get out on the streets. We have called for a mass demonstration and are working with affiliated groups to make this happen – potentially around the NHS’s birthday weekend at the beginning of July. But there is no doubt that we will be out before then too.
We have made it clear that fighting for a meaningful and restorative pay rise is a fight to protect and invest in the future of the NHS. We need the public behind us and to be ready for the inevitable smear campaign against NHS workers if we reject a miserly pay offer from the PRB.
The government is already attempting to deploy a divide-and-rule tactic against workers. Ministers have pointed to a public sector pay freeze as evidence that there is no more money to spare and that demands for more than 1% are unreasonable.
We need to stand firm and smash through the public sector pay freezes all together. Teachers, local government workers, and any essential workers also face attacks on their jobs, wages and conditions.
Instead of allowing the ‘race to the bottom’, we must unite to demand a decent wage for all. The union leaders need to act decisively. The TUC should be organising and mobilising workers for a public sector-wide strike. We must transform our unions into the fighting organisations we need them to be.
The NHS pay campaign could spearhead the coordinated fight and give confidence to other workers in the public sector.