Johnson Offers Nurses Pay Rise Of Nearly 8% Over Next Three Years
Alan Johnson, the health secretary, appeared yesterday to have averted the threat of industrial action across the NHS in England with a pay offer for 1.2 million nurses and ancillary staff worth almost 8% over three years.
The nurses will get an immediate increase of at least 2.75% – the highest award in the public sector during the current pay round. It will raise the minimum starting salary for a qualified nurse to more than £20,000.
The Treasury would have regarded the deal as unacceptably inflationary if Johnson had not secured agreement from the two biggest health unions for an unprecedented three-year settlement.
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling called in January for public sector workers to commit themselves to long-term pay deals, to help ensure financial stability.
Johnson’s proposal would give NHS staff increases of 2.4% in 2009-10 and 2.25% in 2010-11, with extra for the lowest paid workers and prospects of faster promotion up the pay ladder. Similar terms are expected to be offered to the health unions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Negotiators from the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, the public service union, backed the plan after the government agreed to insert an inflation safeguard. If prices rise by more than expected the unions will be entitled to appeal to an independent pay review body to be compensated for loss of purchasing power.
But the Royal College of Midwives and the health section of Unite said the inflation protection was not watertight and staff may face a real-terms pay cut by 2011. The British Medical Association criticised a separate deal for doctors and dentists which will increase earnings by 2.2%.
Last year the NHS in England postponed part of the pay increase that was recommended by the independent review body. The health unions decided against industrial action, but warned of serious unrest if this year’s recommendations were not honoured in full.
The unions will ballot members before deciding their response to yesterday’s deal, but the initial reaction was generally positive.
The Department of Health said the starting salary for nurses would rise to £20,224, backdated to the start of this month. This was a 24% increase in real terms since 1997, a spokesman said. Experienced midwives would get £32,653, up 28% in real terms since 1997, he added.
Johnson said: “A multi-year deal ensures security for staff and allows them to plan for their future and the future of their families. It also ensures long-term stability for the NHS, which can now push ahead with challenging health reforms with a greater degree of security.”
Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: “We have always said we would only consider signing up to a three-year pay deal if it was fair and offered nurses protection against future rises in inflation. We are delighted to put the RCN’s name to a proposal that does just that.
“Given the uncertain economic climate and the government’s tough public sector pay policy, this package is better than expected and goes some way towards bridging the gap between nurses’ pay and other public sector workers’.”
Karen Jennings, Unison’s head of health, said the deal on offer was “the highest in the public sector”. The minimum wage would rise to £6.77 an hour from next year and there would be more money for nurses, midwives and paramedics stuck at the top of their grades.
“This does offer pay stability over the next three years. We will be asking our executive to consider recommending it,” she added.
Dame Karlene Davis, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The RCM believes that the proposed settlement represents a potential real-terms cut in the pay of staff in the NHS. We are not prepared to recommend this to our members, given trends in the economy and prospects for inflation.”
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: “Some GPs will receive a small increase in the resources necessary to run their practices, but many will receive nothing at all. After two years of zero awards, this is a further slap in the face for GPs.”
He said proposals to withdraw free hospital accommodation for junior doctors were “completely unacceptable”.
Police officers were unhappy with a Home Office pay offer of 2.5% in December 2007. They have since won the right to challenge the government in the high court. The initial 2.5% rise was not fully backdated, in effect cutting it to under 2% for many officers. A backlash against home secretary Jacqui Smith followed, with 20,000 officers marching through Westminster in January 2008. There is muttering in the ranks that if legal action fails an unprecedented strike ballot could follow. Teachers in England and Wales were offered a rise of 2.45% this year in a settlement above the 2% target set by Gordon Brown. The offer included a commitment to a 2.3% rise in each of the next two years. Schools secretary Ed Balls accepted the review panel’s proposal despite fears that it could fuel inflation. Members of the National Union of Teachers had demanded 4%. NUT members have voted for a one-day strike this month, the first walkout by teachers for over 20 years.