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On employment: Scrap the pay cap

26 May, 2017

On employment: Scrap the pay cap

A derisory 1% pay rise for NHS staff is effectively a pay cut. But the general election is an opportunity to hold candidates to account and break the pay restraint policy.

In March, the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) published its 30th annual report, which recommended NHS staff be paid 1% more in 2017-18. The governments in England, Scotland and Wales accepted this recommendation. However, the RCM has argued that 1% is not good enough. 

NHS staff have now seen seven years of pay restraint and – with another three years on the horizon – this is a disastrous, unsustainable decision for the NHS and its maternity services. We are working with other NHS trade unions to coordinate how we break the policy of pay restraint, but it is clear that the general election on 8 June presents us with an opportunity.

Since 2010, the government has imposed a cap on the pay recommendations that public-sector pay bodies, including the NHSPRB, can make. First, pay was frozen for two years in 2011 and 2012, and since then a 1% pay cap has been imposed. The government intends its public-sector pay restraint to continue until 2020. Below-inflation increases for the past seven years have led to midwives’ pay dropping in value by more than £6000 since 2010. March saw consumer price index inflation climb to 2.3% and retail price index inflation to 3.2% – both are set to rise even further. This is significantly above the 1% pay award and effectively results in a pay cut for midwives and other front-line clinical staff. 

The general election gives us the opportunity to influence the government to change its policy on pay restraint.

We want to see all parties make this pledge, and we will be working hard at national level to influence this. 

We also need you to ask about pay restraint locally: when you speak to candidates on the doorstep, if you attend local hustings and at any other opportunity you have to ask candidates their views. 

Another hard campaign

We need you to tell the candidates you work as a midwife or MSW and how pay restraint has personally affected you. You should tell them you are a member of the RCM and that we are asking all parties to pledge to end pay restraint. Ask them if they agree to end pay restraint in the NHS, and try to mention some of the points we have presented to the NHSPRB (see panel below).

We will be working hard at a national level to make these arguments too, and by working together we hope to find a political solution and end pay restraint in the NHS.

It is worth noting that the circumstances today are very different to those of 2014, when we made the historic decision to take industrial action for the first time in our 134-year history because of the decision to reject the NHSPRB’s recommendation in England. The RCM took a leading role in that long, hard-fought campaign – we mounted two periods of successful industrial action, and led the campaign’s political lobbying work and the negotiations of the final deal. We won that dispute with a combined industrial and political campaign; but let’s be clear – specific circumstances led to us taking industrial action and to winning that dispute.

First, a red line was crossed by acting entirely unreasonably and rejecting the NHSPRB’s recommendation in England, while Scotland and Wales honoured the agreement; second, the timing allowed us to mount the campaign – including balloting for and taking industrial action – just before the 2015 general election; and third, we were part of a coordinated trade union campaign in which other trade unions (Unison, GMB, Unite and SoR) also took industrial action. We are currently talking with the other NHS trade unions to adopt a coordinated UK-wide position to end pay restraint. While we will continue to evaluate the changing circumstances, at present it seems likely the solution we are seeking is a political one.

The RCM consistently argues that the NHS is reliant on the goodwill of midwives, MSW and all other NHS staff; we want the government to recognise that. We want to use the opportunity of this election to influence the government to address the evidence put to the NHSPRB by the RCM, and other NHS trade unions, to show they understand the seriousness of the staffing crisis in the NHS, and work to retain existing staff in the service. We want the government to show all NHS staff they are valued by giving them a fair pay rise in line with inflation. 

We will be working hard at national level to influence the parties to end the policy of pay restraint, but we also need the message to be repeated locally. 

Please ensure you ask your local candidates about their position on NHS sector pay restraint – and together we can show that investment in NHS staff is an investment in high-quality and safe care.

What you should tell your local candidates about NHS pay restraint

  • There is currently a shortage of 3500 midwives in the NHS, and many more are debating leaving midwifery because staffing and workload pressures are challenging midwives’ ability to give high-quality, safe care to mothers and their families (RCM, 2016). 
  • It is reckless to continue with the policy of pay restraint because two staffing crises are looming on the horizon: the introduction of tuition fees for new midwifery students and the uncertain future of staff from the EU. 
  • The government needs to intervene now to retain much-needed staff before it is too late. Our evidence to the NHSPRB shows 80% of midwives who are intending to leave or have left the service say they would be persuaded to stay if pay was higher (RCM, 2016). 
  • The NHSPRB cited the RCM’s evidence many times in their report – we were the most quoted trade union. The report’s chapter on morale, motivation and engagement focused on just two professional groups to be particularly concerned about: ambulance workers and midwives; this is a warning sign the government must take notice of.  
  • The NHSPRB repeatedly criticised the government’s policy of pay restraint in their report, saying it is coming under stress and is unsustainable. They said the default strategy was to deal with increased patient demand within a slowly increasing budget ‘by expecting NHS staff to work more intensively, in more stressful working environments, for pay that continues to decrease in real terms. We do not consider this a sustainable position.’ 
  •  We want the NHSPRB to be able to make unfettered recommendations.
Illustration: Pablo Bernasconi

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