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UNISON recommends members vote ‘yes’ for strike action in order to fight for a better pay deal and to help the NHS recruit and retain staff
Some 350,000 NHS employees working across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being asked to vote on strike action over pay this winter.
UNISON represents a wide range of staff working in the NHS, including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners. The union recommends members vote ‘yes’ for strike action in order to pressure government decision-makers to increase pay.
In England and Wales, NHS staff have had a pay award of just 72p per hour. This is nowhere near what workers need to survive the current cost of living – and it will do nothing to address the staffing crisis which has led to 132,000 unfilled vacancies in England alone.
In Scotland, ministers upped their initial offer of 5% to a flat rate of just over £2,200, which is worth more than 11% to the lowest paid. UNISON has therefore suspended the strike ballot in Scotland and is now consulting members on the new offer.
In Northern Ireland, workers are yet to receive any pay award due to the political situation there.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Striking is the last thing dedicated health workers want to do. But with services in such a dire state, and staff struggling to deliver for patients with fewer colleagues than ever, many feel like the end of the road has been reached.
“The NHS is losing experienced staff at alarming rates. Health workers are leaving for work that pays better and doesn’t take such a toll on them and their families. If this continues, the health service will never conquer the backlog and treat the millions desperately awaiting care.”
“Not enough to live on”
UNISON member Emily Jones has worked for the NHS in a range of roles, from mental health to the ambulance service, for nine years. Emily is voting for strike when her ballot paper lands.
She said: “The financial burden is now so huge that we can’t cope, I’m the only breadwinner in my household. Our mortgage isn’t fixed and our monthly payment has already doubled. The NHS isn’t in a good place. And the pressures certainly don’t make a great job advert.
“Going on strike is very hard, it’s the last thing we want to do but we can’t go on like this. I’ll be voting ‘yes’ in the ballot for the sake of the NHS and for patients.
“If pay isn’t attractive, then no one will want to join the service. Better pay means we’ll be able to recruit, ease the pressure on existing staff and look after patients.”
UNISON member Joseph Pearce has worked in the NHS for almost 3 years. He began working as a decontamination officer, cleaning surgical equipment, and is now a training officer.
He said: “The pay for bands 2 and 3 is not enough to live on. I have a mortgage and rely on loans and my overdraft to make ends meet. Too many people are struggling.”
For more reasons on why UNISON recommends members vote ‘yes’ for strike action, see here
Strikes are not inevitable
UNISON is urging members to return ballot papers promptly in order to meet strict anti-union ballot thresholds introduced by the government, which require a minimum of 50% of union members to vote and, in public services like hospitals, at least 40%of those to vote ‘yes’, in order for strike action to proceed.
Votes will be counted separately for each employer and strike action can only take place there if enough members have voted.
UNISON deputy head of health Helga Pile told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the pay award for health staff – including paramedics, porters and nurses – outside Scotland was “nowhere near enough.
“Outside Scotland, all they [health staff] have got is a 72 pence per hour award, and that’s just nowhere near enough when they can’t afford to pay their bills.
“They can’t afford to feed themselves, they’re going to work hungry, they’re going home to cold houses at the end of their long shifts.”
Ms McAnea said: “Strikes across the NHS this winter are not inevitable. The government must start to tackle the growing workforce crisis with an inflation-busting pay rise and get the NHS back on the long road to recovery”.
Find out more about NHS pay and the strike ballot
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NHS staff have their pay and terms and conditions set by a national scheme known as Agenda for Change.
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