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NHS pay: unions must take fight to U-turn Tories
Sue Powell, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
The nurses praised by Boris Johnson for staying with him for 48 hours in April "when things could have gone either way", might have hoped his gratitude would lead to improved conditions, an end to PPE shortages, and better pay.
Johnson joined the clapping for carers, celebrated 72 years of the NHS, while Chancellor Sunak said: "These past months underlined what we always knew: our public sector workers make a vital contribution to our country and we can rely on them." But nurses' pay has fallen an average 8% in real terms since 2010.
Shortly before lockdown, Tory MPs voted against proposals to raise nurses' pay. Despite the sacrifices - 540 health workers dead and staff enduring months of anxiety and lack of PPE, and separation from loved ones - the Tories will not budge.
The pay rise announced for 900,000 public sector workers of 2-3.1% for teachers, doctors, police, armed forces, and so on, does not extend to nurses who are tied to an existing 2018 wage deal.
Adding insult to injury, care minister Helen Whately confirmed the financial package for student nurses, due this autumn, will not be updated.
Having suffered under Tory negligence and contempt, nurses get empty praise - and they're furious.
Kick in the teeth
If the pandemic increased public appreciation of the NHS, the government has delivered a kick in the teeth.
The dedication and 'saintly' status of the NHS has been exploited for too long. Health sector unions and professional organisations have launched a campaign to demand pay talks "out of respect for the dedicated NHS staff who have battled Covid-19". This does not reflect the anger of their members who are demanding a 15% increases.
The current 'Agenda for Change' deal, agreed in 2018, was already unpopular. When the Royal College of Nurses signed, one member said "they shouldn't have trusted the government, they've just gone for the deal and been screwed over".
Nurses are saying it is no wonder the NHS loses so many staff when it "double-crosses the ones they have got on a pay deal."
The NHS is 40,000 nurses short. Continued pressures on the service, and the backlog of operations and appointments due to the pandemic, are being used as a ruse for NHS England to launch the biggest-ever outsourcing of clinical services worth £10 billion over four years.
Cuts and closures are back on the agenda. The school exam U-turn will encourage others, and the beleaguered Tories can expect a fight: there have already been at least 30 demonstrations on pay.
The battle lines are drawn. Will the union leaders, who failed to act during the junior doctors' strike in 2016, respond?
NHS workers deserve more than fine words and it goes beyond pay, the NHS itself is at stake.
In The Socialist 19 August 2020:
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