The government must rethink its decision to impose a pay cut on NHS staff in England. On 13 October 2014, NHS workers who are members of several health unions, including members of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP), started a campaign of industrial action over pay for the first time in more than 30 years.
The reason for the action was that, for NHS staff working in England, the government decided to ignore the independent NHS Pay Review Body’s (PRB) recommendation of a 1% pay rise for all staff. Instead, it said only those staff at the top of the payscale will receive any uplift to their salary in the form of a 1% non-consolidated payment. All other staff will receive no pay award. The Scottish Government has implemented the PRB recommendation for all NHS employees. The government’s justification for not awarding a pay rise to a large number of staff in England is that they will receive an incremental rise instead.
The NHS’s ‘Agenda for change’ payscale is made up of 12 bands and each band has a number of increments within it. Staff start at the bottom of the pay band and have an annual incremental rise until they reach the top of the pay band, which represents the true value of the role. It is disingenuous of the government to say members in receipt of an incremental rise are getting a pay rise. Increments are a way of keeping the pay bill down. A band 6 pharmacist post has a salary of £34,530 but it takes nine years to reach this level of pay. To not give the 1% pay rise to these employees is, in essence, giving them a pay cut in real terms.
The industrial action led by Unite, which the GHP is part of, is in two forms. The first was a four-hour strike from 7am to 11am on 13 October 2014. Managers were advised by Unite to plan for a bank holiday level of service to avoid any compromise to patient safety. It is difficult to gauge the level of participation by GHP members in this strike action. However, I have had a number of reports from around the country of members taking part.
The second part of the action was a ‘work to rule’ until 9 November 2014, during which members were advised not to work any unpaid overtime. The NHS relies heavily on the goodwill of its staff to ensure services are delivered. This often means staff work through their lunch breaks or longer than their contracted hours to get the basic job done. In some departments, staff receive pay or lieu time for the extra work they do and, as long as the lieu time can be taken, this is acceptable. What is not acceptable is for staff to be expected to work extra hours for no remuneration.
Goodwill is a two-way process and the government has certainly damaged the goodwill held by NHS staff in England with this latest pay insult. A second wave of action will take place on 24 November 2014 with another four-hour strike and a work to rule from 24 November 2014 to 18 January 2015. The GHP fully supports the action Unite has called.
Dave Thornton is the president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, which defends the interests of individual employed pharmacists working in hospitals, primary care and other healthcare institutions for both the NHS and commercial healthcare providers throughout the UK.