A quote from Unison’s Pay Matters website:
“Mortgages and rents are increasing; fuel bills are increasing; food prices are on the rise. That’s why pay is important. The government says you must get 2% for the next three years, but inflation is over 4%. At a time when pay rises in the private sector are running near 4% the government is asking you to take a pay cut and accept half the going rate. We say ‘No’. You deserve a fair deal for improving public services and making a real difference to local communities. We want to make sure our members are respected and rewarded with fair pay.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s a shame, then, that Unison’s lead negotiator Mike Jackson has gone to the Government to ask that it imposes a pay award that will mean three years of pay cuts.
My criticisms here are emphatically not of Unison’s lay members or elected lay representatives. Many of the Unison members I have spoken to over the last few weeks are disgusted by the behaviour of their own senior officials. Pay cuts are not in the interests of any health workers, whatever union we belong to.
On 4th April, Unison and RCN negotiators walked out of joint union pay talks and signed their own deal with the Department of Health and the NHS Employers. This makes a mockery of having a Staff Council that is there to represent every union.
The deal was – and is – an absolute disgrace. The Government loves it; the NHS Employers love it. This is hardly surprising. Inflation currently stands at 4.3%. The Bank of England predicts that it will go far higher than this. Inflation for staple food items is now around 19%. Household energy costs are now predicted to increase by 40% by the end of this year. Petrol costs are set to soar.
What did Unison and RCN negotiators get for us? 2.75% in the first year; followed by an even more pathetic 2.4% in year two and 2.25% in year 3. Forget the minor tweaks to pay bands. This pay deal means pay cuts for NHS workers – this year, and almost certainly for another two years after that.
There was worse to come. After a consultation characterised by an extraordinarily high level of hostility towards other unions, lead negotiator Mike Jackson circulated an immensely damaging email on Friday last week. This included an explicit threat to go to the Government and ask for the deal to be imposed:
“If the statement is agreed it will provide for the pay circular to be issued later next week which will allow for payment of the new rates in July and for the issuing of the new Trade Union Time Off and Facilities agreement (Section 25) If it is not agreed, the unions that have voted to accept (UNISON, RCN, SOR, CDNA, BAOT) will ask the DH/Employers to issue the circular.”
Mike Jackson has done just that – asking the Government to impose the deal over the objections of Unite. The Government imposed the deal this afternoon.
I have been a union activist for 25 years. I have never seen a union behave like this at national level. Unions do have differences – and the place to resolve those differences is within our movement. For a union to go the employers and ask for a deal to be imposed is genuinely shocking.
Are Unison’s lay members responsible for this? Of course not. Unison’s Service Group Executive wasn’t even consulted.
So is this democracy? I don’t think so. Mike Jackson’s email states, “unions representing the majority of staff have accepted the agreement.” If this logic applies, then Unison and the RCN can dictate to all health workers and the rest of us might as well pack up and go home. Those unions who rejected the deal, but then accepted the right of the RCN and Unison to impose it, have done a disservice to their own members – what is the point of being in a union that accepts it has no say on pay and conditions.
But it’s interesting to look at the actual ballots that took place. Unison’s officials have kept very quiet about the ballot turnout, but members tell me of informal reports of 10 to 12%. I’m assuming 12% here. Unison’s claimed membership in health is 452,000. Unite (Amicus) some time ago reported a health membership of 88,000; the actual membership will be higher now. The Unite turnout was around 27%.
So just looking at the Unison and Unite ballot results, based on the reported acceptance percentages of 65% and 5%, around 36,444 health workers voted in favour of the deal. Around 41,556 voted against.
Who else had a ballot? The CSP did – with 98% voting to reject. An impressive 9144 members voted to reject, with only 127 voting to accept. So that shifts the overall ballot totals to 36,571 to accept, and 50,700 to reject.
The GMB balloted, with 96% voting to reject – I don’t know the turnout, so I’m not including the figures here. The RCM and UCATT rejected the offer, I believe without balloting members. Unite (TGWU) rejected, again without a full members ballot. The RCN and CDNA accepted, again without balloting members.
So was there a democratic decision by health workers to accept this deal? No – absolutely not. A clear majority of health workers who were given a vote chose to vote against acceptance.
I’m proud that the members of Unite voted by 95% to reject pay cuts – and proud, too, that our negotiators have followed the very clear mandate given to them by members. Our members also voted to progress now to a ballot on industrial action. That is a decision that I absolutely support.
Why should health workers pay for the Government’s economic crisis? It isn’t acceptable for Brown and Johnson to try and force us to bail them out. It isn’t acceptable for union officials to help them do it.