NHS: We demand a living wage!


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On 5 June, Unison – the biggest trade union in health – is organising a day of protest over pay. And there is plenty for us to protest about.

The recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body this year was for an across the board rise of 1%.

1%! …After a three year pay freeze.

1%! …This is at a time when the cost of living is soaring, meaning most NHS workers have suffered around a 10% real value pay cut.

1%! …When 20,000 NHS workers don’t earn the living wage and an increasing number are forced to rely on food banks and payday loans.

1%! …When existing NHS cuts mean a smaller number of workers expected to do a larger amount of work and future threatened cuts mean we all expect that ratio to get worse not better.

A measly 1%!

Far too generous, says Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt! How could we afford it, he asks?

Perhaps chasing millionaire tax avoiders who cheat the public purse out of billions of pounds that could be spent providing nurses with a living wage would be a start.

Millionaire tax avoiders like, for example, Jeremy Hunt, found in 2012 to have avoided paying over £100,000 tax on a dodgy property deal.

Just one recent high profile tax avoidance scheme allowed its rich and famous investors, including Tory-funding singer Gary Barlow, to dodge paying over £130 million in tax.

Following this revelation, David Cameron defended Barlow’s OBE on the basis of his charity work. The kind of charity work that would not be necessary if the government demanded the super-rich pay their fair share to properly fund public services like the NHS.

But instead of going after these parasites, it is low-paid workers who face the government’s wrath. A 1% pay rise is unaffordable they say.

They have instead offered a one-off unconsolidated 1% rise for the longest serving staff at the top of their pay bands.

Everyone else must make do with the yearly increments of which we are already entitled, meaning 60% of us once again get nothing and, in effect, a real pay cut.

Yet Unison estimates it would cost less than £20 million a year to make sure every NHS worker was paid a living wage.

We have had enough and that is why we will be protesting. It is also why Unison health conference overwhelmingly voted for a strike ballot on pay. 5 June must only be the start of a serious, determined battle over pay, including industrial action.

The union must also learn lessons from the defeat over pensions in 2011, when a fantastic day of strike action on 30 November was followed by the leadership backing down the very next day. Members have not forgotten that, and will be determined for it not to happen again.

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