Agenda for Change: the Northern Ireland scandal

Most of us, quite rightly, are focusing our energies on overturning the disgraceful three year pay offer agreed between RCN and Unison negotiators and the Government. It’s a recipe for three years of pay cuts. Despite the hollow claims that the deal is weighted towards low paid NHS workers, the effective pay cut will be even larger for this group. Your ‘personal inflation rate’ depends on what you spend most of your money on. I’m not sure what the price of yachts and swimming pools is these days, but food, fuel and housing costs are going through the roof. For Band 1 and Band 2 health workers, income is going to go almost entirely on meeting these essential needs. I’ve seen estimates of personal inflation for low paid workers being between 12% and 17%. In that context, the proposed 2.75% pay offer (with even worse to come) looks like a bloody big pay cut.

For some health workers, though, there are even sharper concerns. In Northern Ireland, Agenda for Change is still being implemented. There are differences between what’s happening in Northern Ireland and what happened in England and Wales. AFC in Scotland is ongoing and troubled – but can’t begin to compare with Northern Ireland.

Forget ‘pay protection’. In Northern Ireland, pay protection means protection at October 2004 levels – so ‘pay protection’ in 2008 is at whatever people were being paid 3 ½ years ago! Pay cuts are immediate. I know of one person who got their banding outcome on Friday and got a pay cut on Monday. I know of a health worker who is facing serious illness on a sharply reduced salary, and another who has just had a house sale fall through because her pay has been slashed. Remember all the claims about ‘no detriment’? Those look pretty hollow.

It gets even worse. There’s an arrangement in Northern Ireland called ‘GANI’ – which stands for ‘Government Accounting Northern Ireland’. Under GANI, there is an assumption that people have to pay back to the Government anything they have been ‘overpaid’. Completely bizarrely, this is taken to mean that health workers not only face an immediate pay cut, but also ‘owe’ the Government all the money they have supposedly been overpaid since 2004.

This is an insane and Alice in Wonderland interpretation of the Agenda for Change agreement – but the Minister concerned (one Michael McGimpsey) is insisting on this.

Very many of those who are being hit by this double whammy are speech and language therapists – my own professional group. AFC has been bad news for speech therapists generally, and my belief is that a key driver of AFC was Labour’s need to reverse our magnificent equal pay victory dating back to 2000. The danger from the Government’s perspective was that physios and OTs and a whole bunch of other NHS workers might start wanting equal pay too. AFC was a neat way of side stepping equal pay claims, and it’s a shame we let them get away with it.

What’s happening now in Northern Ireland is obviously unacceptable. I’m Chair of the Unite committee representing Speech and Language Therapists at national level. I’ve been instructed by the committee to write to every MLA (the elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly) urging that they intervene on behalf of speech and language therapists.

Is writing to MLAs enough? Almost certainly not. It’s essential that the health workers affected by this nonsense move swiftly to campaign and organise in their own defence. It’s also essential that Unite throws its weight behind this group of members.

Most of us just face pay cuts. The Northern Ireland situation comes dangerously close to making health workers pay the Government for the privilege of being employed. This is presumably partnership working at its very finest!

For ALL health workers, the reality is that we’ll get what we fight for – in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK.


4 Responses to Agenda for Change: the Northern Ireland scandal

  1. solo12002 says:

    I think you have to take into account the following. 1. in England they had 12 pliot sites which give Trusts there a head start. 2. NI does not just have a NHS it has a health and social care service , which means Trusts in NI have to match social workers and care asst as well as home helps etc, they normally come under local govement in england.

    As for the pay back, it has been our own unions UNISON and indeed unite that have done dam all about the pay back, its been our own unions in Ni that have not permitted the rewriting of JD but accepetted the deal were staff were to use theie 20 year old JD and add a 1 page A4 comment sheet.

    IN NI we have another union NIPSA who are trying to push for medical secs to go into band 4 despite their KTE being no more than a band 2 and with a hell of a push Band 3, so its not as claer cut as you state.

    I could of course say maybe , just maybe SLT were over paid in the first place!

  2. jackanory says:

    I think the unions in NI didn’t do any staff any favours agreeing to let ‘variations’ on the agreed process slip through without proper consideration.
    I do not agree with solo12002 that SLTs were overpaid to start with- following a trip to the european courts in 2000 SLT proved their worth. The farce is that many SLT jobs were allocated decent grades, which would maintain their pay, when evaluated by a fair AFC panel but when trusts didn’t like what the panels came up with they were just sent to another panel till the Trusts and DHSS got the outcomes they wanted. The systems have been totally manipulated. Job reports coming out to staff clealry show this manipulation of the system.
    The main issue is that staff in NHS in NI are being treated differently from rest of UK, to the detriment of the staff effected

  3. Nottobenamed says:

    After working in the mainland and moving to Northern Ireland I have found that there are people who are doing a job here that would get 1 band higher in the mainland. Surely an injustice. It’s an absolute shambles when you look at mainland job descriptions and the banding given for that then you look at your own, which is exactly the same, if not more in some cases, yet you don’t get the same band. Is this Northern Ireland trusts taking the mick. And even when you go through the appeals – you have line managers, directors of departments/ directorates diluting what you actually do, so you are more than likely not going to score enough points to get the true banding.

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