Thousands of health workers were balloted yesterday for strike action over pay.
Ballot papers for health service members of Unite in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being asked whether they want to strike in the autumn over the government’s insulting pay offer.
Unite is one of several health unions who are likely to join strikes.
Around 1.3 million workers in the NHS have seen their pay fall by up to 15 per cent in real terms since the coalition came to power in May 2010.
An estimated 50 per cent of the NHS workforce is having to rely on their annual incremental increase, which is not necessarily guaranteed.
Unite argues that the incremental increases are in recognition of increased knowledge and skills as staff progress in their careers, with additional performance criteria to be met – and are not part of the annual pay rise process.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Never have our members expressed such anger as they have on the pay issue. Jeremy Hunt has treated these hard working health professionals with contempt.
“Our members have an opportunity from today to vote in favour of industrial action and send a stark message that the health secretary should sit down with the unions and listen to our proposals for fair pay for the biggest workforce in the UK.
“We are confident of a positive result from our members. But we also wish to reassure the public that any industrial action will be carefully calibrated to balance the anger that our members feel about their shrinking pay packets, with abiding concern for patient care which is key for the health professionals we represent.”
The pay situation is at different stages in the four countries of the UK: in England, there was a ‘divide and rule’ one per cent offer which meant that 600,000 NHS employees received no cost of living pay rise on 1 April 2014.
In Wales, the devolved government has agreed to a ‘living wage’ for all staff and an imposed one-off payment of £160, however, there is a wider dispute on terms and conditions. In Northern Ireland, there has been no decision made on pay.
In Scotland, the devolved government has agreed to pay the one per cent pay rise to all staff as recommended by the independent Pay Review Body (PRB) and to implement the ‘living wage’ by paying an extra £300 to low paid workers. Unite has accepted this and will, therefore, not be balloting its members in Scotland.
Jeremy Hunt’s decision to reject the recommendation of one per cent for all workers by the PRB meant that only those at the top of their band pay received the one per cent increase in April.