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Healthcare sector unions have written to the government to call for an early pay rise for nurses and health workers in the UK.
Those behind the move said the government must build on the huge public support shown for the NHS during the coronavirus crisis and turn this appreciation of health staff into something more substantial.
“An earlier pay rise will go some way to showing the government values all they do”
The 14 unions, representing more than 1.3 million health workers, have written to both the chancellor and the prime minister, requesting for pay talks to start imminently so that staff get a wage boost before the end of the year.
The group is asking the government to make funding available so that early pay rises can be awarded to NHS staff in all the devolved administrations.
The unions, including the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and Unite, said a “fair pay award would not only make today’s health workers feel valued, it would also help to attract and retain” staff needed.
The call comes as the UK prepares to remember everyone who has died from coronavirus and give thanks for the NHS on its 72nd birthday this weekend.
The unions highlighted that the pandemic had made clear the dedication and commitment of NHS staff and said that a fair wage increase would help staff feel valued after the huge pressures and challenges faced in recent months.
But they stressed that they were “not seeking a ‘Covid bonus payment’ in recompense for recent work”.
Health workers are nearing the end of a three-year pay deal that was agreed in 2018. The unions said this deal was simply the start of making up for the pay freezes and wage caps of previous years.
A boost in staff pay would help the NHS retain experienced workers and even hold on to many who’ve retuned to service during the pandemic, noted the unions.
An early rise would also aid the recruitment of new staff needed to fill the many vacancies across the health service, they added.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton, who also chairs the NHS group of unions, said: “The applause and kind words shown during the difficult days of the pandemic were a huge source of comfort to NHS staff.
“But now the government should show its appreciation in a different way.”
She said that throughout the coronavirus crisis, “the public has seen the immense dedication, commitment and compassion shown by NHS staff, and now expects them to be rewarded”.
“As the clapping returns this weekend for the NHS’ birthday, ministers can show how much they value health staff by committing to an early pay rise that the entire country supports,” said Ms Gorton.
In addition, Hannah Reed from the RCN,who is also acting secretary to the health unions’ group, said nursing staff across the NHS were “still working harder than ever”.
“These people are the country’s greatest asset. When we celebrate that, politicians must think about how staff can be fairly paid and valued,” she added.
“They do not need more warm words and praise that, to many, is already beginning to feel hollow.
“An earlier pay rise will go some way to showing the government values all they do, not just this year but day in, day out.”
“This is not an ask for a ‘pandemic payment’, but rather a pay deal that will ensure our NHS is fit for the future”
This kind of “proper recognition and pay to match” would also “go some way to addressing the number of unfilled jobs”, added Ms Reed.
Meanwhile, executive director for external relations at the RCM Jon Skewes, who is also treasurer for the NHS group of unions, said: “Midwives and all NHS staff deserve a fair and decent pay rise.
“They did before this pandemic and they certainly do now. To truly value the contribution of NHS staff, their pay must be restored in real terms.”
He reiterated the staff shortages across the health service and said the government “should be doing all it can to retain and attract new staff”.
“This is not an ask for an additional ‘pandemic payment’, but rather a pay deal that will ensure our NHS is fit for the future,” he said. “We hope by bringing this pay settlement forward this can be achieved.”
The 14 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, Unison and Unite.
In response to the issues raised by the unions, a government spokesperson said: “We are incredibly proud of all our health and care staff, and recognise their extraordinary commitment, working day and night putting our care and safety at the centre of everything they do.”
They explained that more than one million NHS workers were on the three-year Agenda for Change pay deal, adding that under this deal the starting pay for a newly qualified nurse had increased by over 12% since 2017/18.
“The independent NHS Pay Review Body makes recommendations to government on pay increases and we will consider their advice when we receive it,” the spokesperson added.