Health workers ranging from nurses and ambulance drivers to hospital porters and cleaners are being urged to accept a “significant” pay offer ranging from 6.5% to 29% over the next three years.
The Government is investing £4.2 billion into the deal for over a million workers in England, signalling the end of the seven-year cap on public sector pay.
The pay of the lowest-paid staff, such as porters and cleaners, will increase by 15%, while nurses are being offered their biggest wage increase in a decade.
Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison union, said pay restraint had led to a staffing crisis across the country, as well as financial hardship.
The deal is expected to be mirrored in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and is set to lead to claims for big pay rises from teachers and other public sector employees.
Half of NHS workers are at the top of their pay band so will receive a 6.5% increase, while the other half will get between 9% and 29%.
Midwives and physiotherapists are among those in line for the biggest increase.
The GMB is the only one of the 14 unions involved to recommend rejection of the deal, saying it fell below the expected increase in inflation.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “To support long-term attraction and recruitment, starting salaries for all our non-medical staff groups will also see increases, which will help to make these roles more attractive for people considering a career in the largest employer in Europe.”
Under the deal, hospital caterers, cleaners, porters and other staff on the lowest pay grade would get an immediate pay rise of more than £2,000 this year – an increase of between 11% and 13%.
This would mean that, from April 1, every NHS worker in England would be paid at least £8.93 an hour, which is 18p above the voluntary living wage of £8.75.
This would take the lowest full-time rate of pay in the NHS to £17,460.
Under the proposals, band one would be scrapped by April 2021 and all staff moved to the next pay scale.
The lowest salary in the NHS would then be £18,005.
Over the three years, more than 100,000 of the lowest-paid health workers would be in line for wage increases of between 15% (£2,300) and 17% (£2,600).
Unison’s Sara Gorton added: “The agreement means an end at last to the Government’s self-defeating and unfair 1% pay cap.
“It won’t solve every problem in the NHS, but would go a long way towards making dedicated health staff feel more valued, lift flagging morale, and help turn the tide on employers’ staffing problems.
“If health workers accept the offer, everyone’s wages will go further, and the lowest paid would get a significant income boost. Starting salaries for nurses, midwives and other health professionals would also become more attractive to people considering a career in the NHS.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “NHS staff have never worked harder and this deal is recognition of that – alongside some important modernisation of the way their contracts work.
“Over one million employees on Agenda for Change contracts – including the lowest paid NHS workers – will get pay rises that see starting salary increasing year on year from £15,404 to £18,005 in 2020/2021.
“The starting salary of a nurse will also rise to £24,907 which will have a significant impact on retention and recruitment issues. We will also extend shared parental leave rights to all staff, and employers and unions have made a commitment to reducing sickness absence through a better shared focus on staff health and wellbeing, all of which will be welcomed by staff after a very tough winter.”
Royal College of Nursing associate director of employment relations Josie Irwin said: “Members campaigned hard to put an end to the years of poor pay rises and this deal is a significant move in the right direction from a government still committed to austerity.
“When there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England alone, it should begin to make the profession more attractive to nurses of today and tomorrow alike.”
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “We regard this as the start, not the end, of the journey for true pay justice for NHS staff, which we will campaign for with vigour in the coming months and years.”
Health unions will now consult with their members over the pay offer, with the results known in June.
If the proposals are accepted, the pay rise should be in people’s July wage packets, backdated to April.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government must now make sure the rest of our hardworking public servants get the pay rise they have earned, and the Government must fund it properly.”
Several Labour backbenchers criticised the deal, with Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) describing it as a “drop in the ocean”, while Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) called on ministers to “apologise to all NHS workers for undervaluing them for so long”.