You would be forgiven for thinking that the RCM is only concentrating on pensions and the privatisation of the NHS. The NHS pension scheme negotiations and the NHS Bill have certainly dominated the news over the past year. However, there is another threat that is becoming increasingly more challenging: pay. In George Osborne’s 2010 budget, he announced that all public sector workers would face a two-year pay freeze to start as soon as their pay deal ended (HM Treasury, 2010). In the 2011/12 report, the NHS Pay Review Body had no choice but to award a pay freeze for all those earning £21,000 or more and a mere £250 increase for those earning less than £21,000 (HMSO, 2011). In the 2012/13 report (published in March), they again had no choice but to award the same for a following year (HMSO, 2012).
In the 2011 autumn statement, George Osborne announced another blow for public sector workers: following the two-year pay freeze all public sector workers will have their pay rise capped at 1%. So, in 2013 and 2014 the maximum the NHS Pay Review Body can award will be just 1%. This is deeply upsetting and worrying at a time of high inflation and when so many families are seeing cuts to working tax credits, which will mean household incomes being squeezed. However, there is a more worrying threat than pay freezes and pay caps: local pay linked to local markets. In December, George Osborne wrote to the NHS Pay Review Body to ask them to produce a report investigating moving Agenda for Change staff away from nationally agreed pay to local pay. This means that the government wants to move away from the nationally agreed pay scales and have pay determined locally or regionally, taking into account local markets, for example, what private employers pay in that area.
George Osborne wrote: ‘There is substantial evidence that the differential between the public and private sector wages varies considerably between local labour markets. This has the potential to hurt private sector businesses that need to compete with higher public sector wages; lead to unfair variations in public service quality and reduce the number of jobs that the public sector can support for any given level of expenditure.’ George Osborne, unfortunately, did not provide any of the ‘substantial evidence’ of the differential between the private and public sector wages. Nor did he explain why it could ‘hurt’ business, or why business needs to compete with public sector wages when they are not competing over the same staff. He also did not give any evidence for the curious notion that national pay scales ‘lead to unfair variations in service quality’. Nevertheless, he asked the NHS Pay Review Body to open a consultation and write a report on the feasibility of moving away from nationally agreed pay to local pay.
The RCM responded to the consultation in March stating that we are committed to national pay bargaining and Agenda for Change, as it is the most transparent, fair and equitable system. Underpinning and supporting the whole system is a robust job evaluation scheme that is fundamentally based on equal pay for equal work. We argue that a move to market-facing local pay would undermine the whole structure; if the structure is undermined and starts to fragment, this may open the NHS up to equal pay issues.
We argued that developing a system of market-facing pay in local areas would likely lead to an inefficient and unequal pay structure and it is very probable that there would be a reduction in pay in some areas of the country that would further entrench low pay in those areas.
We do not want to see any reduction in the real value of midwives’ and MSWs' pay. The government’s proposal to move to local pay follows on from a two-year pay freeze and the announcement of a two-year pay cap of 1%, all at a time of high inflation. In addition, in the next three years, pension contributions will increase by an average of 3.2%, which will further decrease midwives’ and MSWs' take-home pay. All the while, many NHS trusts are reconfiguring their maternity units and down-banding large numbers of midwives. We do not want any reduction in the value of pay but this is coming on top of the pay freeze, on top of the pay cap, on top of the pension changes, on top of reconfigurations, and on top of massively high inflation. Enough is enough.
Another reason we argued against local pay is that it has been done before; it did not work last time and it will not work this time. When the last Conservative government was in power in the 1990s, it introduced local pay and it was an unmitigated failure. It was abandoned in 1997 after wasting large amounts of time, energy and money and with almost all trusts settling on the same rate of pay increase.
Fundamentally, however, the main reason we are opposed to local pay and are committed to nationally determined pay is because we believe in equal pay for midwives and MSWs, no matter where they work in the UK.
Midwives and MSWs have the same responsibilities and perform the same role no matter what part of the UK they are in. A midwife or MSW in London is the same as a midwife or MSW in Leeds, Liverpool or Llandudno.
The King's Fund wrote a report in 2007 and they concluded that: ‘Achieving equal pay for jobs of equal value was one of the key objectives of Agenda for Change. The trust managers were generally supportive of the more standardised working hours and job evaluation-based pay as providing a more transparent and fairer pay system.’
The Hartley judgment in 2009 also confirmed that Agenda for Change is an equal pay proofed system, with the tribunal ruling that the job evaluation scheme is robust and that the pay system is fair.
Nationally determined pay, terms and conditions provide the most equitable, transparent and fair system of pay for the NHS, and the RCM will do everything to defend this system and prevent the move to local pay. Amy Leversidge
RCM employment relations advisor Help us with the response to the NHS Pay Review Body!
NHS trade unions, including the RCM, are conducting a survey by email of members about pay and conditions in the NHS. It only takes 10 minutes to respond, and will form the basis of the trade unions' response to the Pay Review Body later this year. To complete the survey, visit the RCM's website and click on campaigns & events/pay campaign. This is your chance to have a say on your pay.
To read the RCM’s full response to the NHS Pay Review Body’s consultation of local market-facing pay, please visit the RCM website and click on support at work/pay. RCM Communities
RCM director of employment relations Jon Skewes will be on RCM Communities between 14:00 and 16:00 on 15 June to answer your regional pay questions live. Just sign up at: communities.rcm.org.uk
. If you can’t make this time, don’t worry. You’ll be able to post your questions from 8 to 22 June in a discussion thread in the midwives group. References
HM Treasury. (2010) 2010 Budget.
(accessed 14 May 2012).
Office of Manpower Economics. (2011) NHS Pay Review Body 25th Report 2011.
(accessed 14 May 2012).
Office of Manpower Economics. (2012) NHS Pay Review Body 26th Report 2012.
(accessed 14 May 2012).