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19 May 2021

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NHS: Scottish vote shows unions must fight for 15% rise

NHS pay campaigning, photo Christine Thomas

NHS pay campaigning, photo Christine Thomas   (Click to enlarge)

NHS worker

Thursday 1 April should have seen a significant pay rise for all NHS staff. Instead, we have seen further delays and no announcement from the Pay Review Body.

The government has recommended a 1% rise, which is an insult to all those health workers working through the Covid crisis. Some have given their lives due to inadequate health and safety and PPE shortages. The government delayed submitting their evidence to the Pay Review Body by seven weeks.

Throughout the Covid pandemic, NHS staff and those in the care sector have been praised and applauded. Hand claps are not enough, and do not compensate for keeping the NHS going. Many staff have become infected and now suffer with 'long Covid', which could affect their future employment and capacity to return to work in a similar role.


Thousands of nurses are looking to leave the NHS and nursing due to staff shortages, low pay and long hours. Many rely on food banks to survive, while big business and Tory cronies have made millions on PPE and other preferential contracts.

Unison, the biggest health union, led the negotiations in England and Wales. It is calling for a 2,000 rise across the board.

Other smaller unions have called for between 12.5% and 15%. The initial Unison claim called for this to be backdated to December 2020 in recognition of the sacrifices made by NHS workers.

But, in Scotland, after Unison recommended accepting a 4% rise from the Scottish government, a ballot of Unison members voted to accept.

Lower-banded staff will get a rise of just over 1,000, far short of the 2,000 claim across the UK. In contrast, Unison's local government section is calling for a vote to reject their pay offer, which is not that different from the 4% offered to Scottish health workers.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and GMB unions have rejected the offer in Scotland. This now needs to be backed up with strike action. The Scottish government is using the Unison vote to try to impose 4%.

Unison claims this is the best that could be achieved under negotiation, but has made no attempt to mobilise the membership. A big vote to reject could have paved the way to vital industrial action.

The trade union leadership, in the main, has failed to support a campaign for a 15% rise. Before the recent election, Labour was only calling for 2.1%.

The government has announced an increase in NHS funding to allow for cancelled appointments and increased demand following the end of the pandemic, yet no increase for NHS workers' pay. Trade unions and community campaigns should call a national demonstration, and prepare for strike action to fight for 15% and for a fully funded NHS.

Unison members have the opportunity to elect representatives to the union's national executive council who are prepared to lead a fight on NHS pay and in defence of public services.

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