Unlocking fair pay

By Alice Sorby and Jon Skewes on 25 May 2018 Midwives Magazine Pay and Agenda For Change

The RCM fought against employer demands in the recent NHS pay framework negotiations in England to reach a settlement it is recommending members accept.

The RCM and staff Side unions have been negotiating with employers since December 2017 to establish a framework agreement combining both pay and structural reform of Agenda for Change. This agreement will be fully funded by the government and not come out of existing NHS funding.

For members in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, agreement would mean that budgets will be adjusted through the Barnett formula; this allows unions, devolved governments and employers to hold discussions on the framework.

Having met and reviewed the framework agreement, the RCM board recommends that members accept the proposals; they have until 31 May to respond to the online consultation.

RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications Jon Skewes says: ‘We have been campaigning for overdue fair pay, and this deal is a very good step in the right direction. It is a real about-turn from years of pay stagnation and pay freezes, particularly given the current economic climate.’


The RCM has argued for years that improvements to Agenda for Change are necessary in order to modernise the pay system and make it fairer.

The union’s proposals were to remove the overlaps between bands by removing the bottom points, whereas employers preferred to remove the top points – which would lower pay. However, the pay deal calls for the bottom points to be removed, thus increasing starting and promotion pay. The number of incremental pay points are also being reduced, in Bands 2 to 4 to two and in Bands 5 to 9 to three, making it quicker to reach the full rate. Increments would no longer be annual but will be worth more.  

The RCM and Staff Side unions have also successfully opposed moves to diminish the value of unsocial hours: current pay rates for unsocial hours are protected. Up to a third of midwives and MSWs’ take-home earnings could be made up from unsocial hours enhancements.

One way the employers wanted to increase productivity was to remove a day of annual leave from staff; this threat was fought off, and the unions argued that this would have improved capacity rather than productivity.

Employers were keen to follow in the footsteps of other public sector professions such as teaching by introducing performance-related pay. However, there will be no substantial changes to pay progression, which has been subject to appraisal since 2013. Progression will be dependent on staff having no formal capability or disciplinary action live on record, and their statutory and/or mandatory training completed. Line managers must complete appraisals for all staff within a set three-month period. Staff are expected to progress subject to meeting these stipulations, and funding calculations have been made on the basis that everyone who is able to progress will.  

There is a commitment from employers working with Staff Side unions to strengthen and improve the appraisal process, which should be supportive and developmental, and there will be further negotiations on this. The NHS Staff Council will be monitoring pay progression and re-earnable pay to ensure there is no equality impact. The RCM will also be looking at support for line managers carrying out appraisals, including the impact on workload.

What do the changes mean?

Many members not at the top of their pay band will see overall pay increases of 9% to 29% over the three years through a combination of incremental progression, structural reform and the pay award. The changes will mean that, by the end of the three years, 85% of current members will be at the top of their band. It is an individual journey for each pay point so check what it means for you using the nhspay.org calculator.

For a small number of pay points, the transition will run into year four. For Band 6, point 24, for example, the increase would be 14% over the three-year period – not much more than someone at that point could currently expect. But going into the fourth year (2021-22), they would move to the top of Band 6. This would be a year earlier than currently, and the top rate would have increased by 6.5% as well.

The pay calculator shows the year you could expect to reach the top of the band but does not include figures for year four, which does not fall under the proposed agreement. By year four, the unions would of course be working towards a new pay award.

Bands 1 to 3

Band 1 will be closed to new entrants from December 2018, and the NHS will be a ‘real’ living wage employer.

The employers sought to harmonise all unsocial hours enhancements, which would have dramatically cut the rates for Bands 1 to 3. Instead, the proposal is to freeze the current cash value, then use that amount to recalculate a new percentage, using the new salaries. It’s a smaller percentage of a bigger salary, but with the same amount of actual money. Instead of being based on the old pay points, eligibility for the payment of unsocial hours during sick leave would apply to salaries up to £18,160.

Bands 8c, 8d and 9

Pay increases at the top point will be capped at the level of the top of 8c. Re-earnable pay, first introduced in 2013, will continue and be subject to annual appraisal. In the year after reaching the top of the band, up to 5% or 10% of basic salary will become re-earnable. Currently, pay is re-earnable at the point before the top of the band. It will be possible to restore your salary the following year, subject to achieving agreed outcomes. Staff on the top two points of these bands on 31 March 2013 have reserved rights to the relevant point; this will be retained on a marked time basis.

More to come

There will be a focus on improving health and wellbeing for all staff, with the aim of decreasing levels of sickness absence. The NHS Staff Council is looking to explore the scope for a collective framework agreement on bank and agency working, including providing incentives to encourage staff to offer time to internal staff banks.

Employers will work with trade unions to introduce local mechanisms to guarantee access to annual leave and time off in lieu provisions set out in the NHS terms and conditions of service handbook. The staff council will also determine national mechanisms to buy and sell leave.

Please take the time to vote at bit.ly/vote_on_pay. The RCM is asking members to accept the proposals as the the start of recouping what members have lost over the last eight years.

A strong defence  

The RCM successfully fought off the following threats to its members in the course of the negotiations:

  • No diminishment of the value of unsocial hours payment
  • No performance-related pay
  • No substantial changes to pay progression
  • No loss of annual leave
  • A ‘no detriment’ clause ensures no staff member is worse off under the deal.

The pay award

For those at the top point of each pay band up to Band 8c, pay will be increased by 6.5% cumulatively over the three-year period. The effective date for pay awards will still be 1 April.

  • 3% in 2018-19
  • 1.7% in 2019-20 plus a cash sum of 1.1%
  • 1.7% in 2020-21.