There will be a special Health Sector National Committee meeting of Unite on 22nd April, to discuss the pay proposals. This is an opportunity to establish a very clear position of opposition to the proposed 3 year pay deal. Certainly this is what the Left will be pushing hard to achieve. I don’t believe we even need to put the offer to ballot as the union has consistently opposed multi-year deals.
I’ve contacted HSNC members with my own analysis of the offer, and just how bad it is. Unite activists will be starting to campaign in their own workplaces against 3 years of pay cuts.
We do need to go beyond just opposing the deal though. It would be very easy just to blame the leaderships of Unison and the RCN, and then say there is nothing we can do. We have to decide what we are going to fight FOR.
The initial position of Unite, together with the RCM and the smaller professional unions, is to state that we would accept the Pay Review Body recommendation of 2.75% in a single union deal, but we have concerns about pay cuts in future years. A joint statement to that effect has been issued.
This is very clearly problematic. The PRB has recommended 2.75%. Inflation is now running at 4.1%. The Bank of England is predicting a sharp rise in the rate of inflation. The Pay Review Body recommendation is a recommendation for a bloody big pay cut. It makes little sense to accept a pay cut in Year 1 but complain about pay cuts in future years.
The challenge we’ve got is that the whole of the 2004 Agenda for Change agreement was built around the assumption that pay will magically be fair, with the Pay Review Body giving the ‘right’ pay increase and all of us floating to our natural place in the pay structure according to our work responsibilities.
Members in all unions accepted AFC in the ballots, accepting the role of the PRB in setting pay. The argument was used that the PRB had given better increases than unions had been able to negotiate under Whitley.
The reality has been very different. AFC is now being used by employers to drive down salaries. The Pay Review Body is subject to pressure from the Government and the employers – which is why its recommendations over the last two years have been for pay awards well below the rate of inflation.
AFC hasn’t delivered for us, and the PRB hasn’t delivered for us. Both are dependent on the goodwill of the Government and the goodwill of the employers. Sadly, there’s little sign of goodwill from either.
The central question of whether it is right to tie ourselves to the PRB is one that we’ve got to start raising, in all our unions. My view is that we’ve got to go back to good old fashioned methods like depending on our own organisation to deliver decent pay – but that means rebuilding organisation from its current quite weak state. The lack of confidence and the lack of organisation make this a difficult argument to win.
The absolute priority short-term is rejecting this very shoddy pay offer. The role of Unison is likely to be decisive – but that doesn’t mean activists in other unions can sit back and do nothing. All of us who are opposed to pay cuts for health workers have to unite to get this offer kicked out.