After Rishi Sunak stated that he was serious about resolving disputes over pay, there are now hopes for deals to end the months-long strikes in the public sector.
Ministers believe that this breakthrough will allow for the end of months of strikes in the public sector, and more than one million NHS employees have been offered a pay increase and cash bonus.
Sunak stated that a 5 percent pay increase starting next month and a one-off payment at least PS1,655 to all nurses, paramedics, and other frontline staff members was a fair deal that would “put disruptive strikes behind us”.
Although the NHS was asked to finance the pay increases, there is a widespread expectation that the Treasury will find billions of pounds of extra cash and rewrite the budget “before it is dry”.
All the major health unions except one will endorse the deal as a “fair, reasonable settlement”, though members may still reject it in the ballots that are expected to be completed within the month.
The unions representing civil and education workers said that they hope that a deal could be reached with NHS staff to “unlock” other public services being disrupted by industrial actions. Ministers are now willing to pay more money to settle disputes at schools.
Other staff will likely be offered less than ambulance and nurses services. Officials say they have the most sympathy with the public and are therefore more difficult to recruit.
Sunak had previously stated that the pay awards for the current financial year could not be reopened. However, the Treasury maintained that the Treasury would not allow pay increases beyond 5% because of the possibility of inflation.
The government’s improved finances have made it possible to offer a one-off bonus of between £1,655 to £3,789 to staff from senior nurses to hospital porters. This is equivalent to about 6 percent increase overall. These payments won’t be carried forward into 2023-24. The rises will be limited at 5%, except for an additional increase of the lowest-paid to bring their hourly rate up to £11.45.
Sunak stated that he was “really happy” with the agreement, and called it “good news to patients whose care won’t be interrupted by strike action.”
Steve Barclay, health secretary, asked junior doctors who had walked out for three consecutive days to show “the exact same kind of leadership as other unions” and to accept a deal. He said that he had offered the same terms to junior doctors as were accepted by other trade unions. “That is what I hope junior doctors will respond to.”
Pat Cullen, the general secretary of Royal College of Nursing, stated that strikes were “vindicated” when ministers forced them to reopen pay deals. She claimed that the agreement showed “real, tangible progression”, with commitments to a revised pay framework as well as safe staffing measures and extra pay.
Sara Gorton of Unison led negotiations for six staff unions. She said that if accepted, the offer would significantly increase pay this year, and result in a wage rise next year that is more than what the government had budgeted.
Unite is the only union to not support the deal. However, it will not vote against it as members will decide. Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, stated that ministers must take full responsibility for their delay and dithering, which have caused unnecessary pain for both patients and staff in the NHS.
Matthew Taylor of the NHS Confederation said that health chiefs would “breathe a deep sigh of relief”. He also stressed that the government should explain how the award would be funded.
The Treasury asked the Department of Health for funding the pay rises beyond the 3.5% already budgeted from existing funds. However, the Treasury insists that further efficiencies could be found. After Sunak’s promise tonight that the deal would not affect frontline care, NHS England repeatedly warned it that it would need to reduce cancer care and backlog recovery in order to fund pay increases out of its existing budget. However, expectations of a future bailout are higher because NHS England has repeatedly warned it that it will have to cut back on these areas.
Officials stated that any new funding requirements would be addressed at the autumn statement. Sources suggest that the budget’s PS14billion contingency fund is already being re-evaluated.
Ben Zaranko of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an think tank, stated that the deal would see NHS pay rise “a little faster” than inflation in 2023-24, but it would still be below the last 2021-22 after this years’s restraint. He stated that if the Treasury found extra money, it would “materially alter the spending plans contained within this week’s budget prior to the ink runs dry.”
Geoff Barton (general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders) said that he was encouraged by the NHS deal and added that “we remain hopeful that there will soon a solution in the education sector.”
Mike Clancy, Prospect union general secretary, said: “The deal being hammered in the NHS by the unions and the government might provide a template to unlock disputes elsewhere in the larger public sector.”
Are the public sector strikes that lasted for months unnecessary? This is the question that a deal on NHS Pay, which critics claim could have been reached months ago, poses to us.
Rishi Sunak spent last year insisting on the inability to reopen 2022-23 pay agreements. However, he abruptly changed his mind last month and accepted a one-off bonus.
A deal is easier to reach in recent weeks because of both political and practical reasons. The Treasury’s insistence that any pay increase above 5% would pose an unacceptable risk of inflation was a sticking point. Budget forecasts suggest that inflation has peaked. The 10.7 percent at the end last year will drop to 2.9% by the end this year. According to one union source, a 5% offer up until April 2024 “doesn’t look too bad”.
Jeremy Hunt had more options for a larger one-off bonus due to better economic forecasts. Falling energy prices didn’t allow for additional permanent spending but gave Hunt a one-off win. Some of this money is actually being used to pay a non-consolidated salary to NHS staff, even though it was not included in the budget.
The strikes were a draw politically. Ministers were not taken for granted by unions, and ministers stressed to them that they are not pushovers.