THE BLOG

This Is Not a Fight of Our Choosing

24/11/2014 09:43 GMT | Updated 23/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The governments in Scotland and Wales have already committed to paying the living wage in the NHS - guaranteeing a minimum hourly rate of £7.85.

In England, 77,000 NHS workers are paid less than this. Who are they? - well they're likely to be the people who keep hospitals clean, prepare and deliver hospital meals, porters who are essential to keeping NHS services running, healthcare assistants providing intimate and critical support for patients, staff who deal with sterilising equipment as well as many more.

Also this time, eleven unions are taking part in the industrial action. Between us we represent midwives, radiographers, cleaners, porters, ambulance staff, occupational therapists, pharmacists, scientists, admin staff and managers - to name just a few . This is almost a whole workforce.

You might imagine this would give the Government pause for thought. But apparently not.

How provocative of Jeremy Hunt to refuse to pay even the paltry 1% from the NHS Pay Review Body! And it doesn't end there. He intends to repeat this next year too. This means NHS workers in England - including those at the top of the pay band who got the 1% - will be on the same rate of pay in April 2016 as they were on in April 2013. Because even for the minority of staff who get this, it is unconsolidated which means it doesn't get paid on unsocial hours, overtime, call-out or standby payments or count towards pensions - and will disappear from pay after two years.

Inflation has continued to rise since 2011 and the value of pay has fallen by around 12%. NHS staff already know this - they live with the reality of this every day as they struggle to make their pay stretch so they can look after their families and pay their bills. We have members - NHS workers - who have to rely on food banks.

The last time our members had a pay award that took account of inflation was in2009.

And this is why our members are taking part in a four- hour stoppage between 7am and 11am today. Then they will be "working to rule" for the rest of the week. That means they will be taking all breaks they are entitled to and only working their contracted hours, no unpaid overtime.

This might not sound like much but it is estimated that £1.5billion worth of unpaid overtime is done by NHS workers every year.

This is set to become a long running dispute which could easily carry over into 2015 and the run up to the general election. This is not a fight of our choosing.

As unions, we have deliberately tried to take action that would minimise the impact on patients by only having a four- hour stoppage. Yet the underlying message we are getting from the Government's refusal to negotiate a settlement is that when, and until, it impacts on patients they won't take it seriously. So where does this leave us? Do they want us to escalate the action and cause real harm or will they talk to us about a reasonable settlement?