There is growing backlash against the Government for its proposal to give NHS workers a pay rise of just 1%, including suggestions that members of a nurses’ union could go on strike.
The UK’s largest nursing union, the Royal College of Nursing, has voted to set up a £35 million fund to support workers through a loss of earnings should its members decide to take industrial action. Meanwhile, the Unite union has also not ruled out asking members to consider strike action.
The Government has proposed a 1% pay rise for NHS workers, though in real terms this is likely to equal a pay cut due to inflation. Many health professionals, politicians and members of the public have demanded that NHS workers be given a substantial pay rise as a result of their efforts during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some have described the 1% pay rise as ‘insulting’ and the Royal College of Nursing has called it ‘pitiful’, arguing for a 12.5% pay rise instead. The Government has so far though defended its position, saying that the pay rise comes in the context of a difficult time for public finances.
Speaking during a Downing Street news conference on Friday, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said he is a ‘huge admirer’ of NHS staff and said that he was “very pleased” that the NHS had been “carved out” from the public sector pay freeze. Mr Hancock faced multiple questions from journalists about the pay rise but repeatedly said that 1% is what the Government considers to be “affordable”.
Campaigns protesting the small payrise have been growing on social media, with many arguing that the Government has committed millions to other, less important causes. The union Unison has also urged the public to join a mass slow handclap next Thursday to protest the Government’s proposal for a 1% pay rise.
The proposal only directly impacts NHS staff in England, with the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being run by the respective devolved administrations. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, a special ‘recognition’ or bonus type payment was promised to staff, though this has not been announced in England.
Even with Coronavirus cases falling across the UK, the NHS is still facing intense pressures, with over 12,000 people in hospital with COVID-19. The NHS has also been running the mass vaccination programme, which has so far given first vaccine doses to over 21 million people in the UK – around 2/5 of the UK’s adult population.
Also during Friday’s Coronavirus news conference, Matt Hancock announced that a mystery individual with a Brazillian variant of COVID-19 had been found earlier this week. Up to 6 cases of a Variant of Concern first identified in Manaus, Brazil were detected in the UK, however, one person with the variant had not been personally identified until recently. It is understood that the individual stayed at home and isolated after testing positive for the virus, raising hopes of reduced community transmission of the variant.