Ms Freeman said while formal pay negotiations had been impacted by the delay to the UK Government Budget, the Scottish Government will give staff an interim 1% “payment on account” – which will be backdated to December 2020.
The move will benefit some 154,000 NHS employees with contracts under the Agenda for Change system, including all nurses, paramedics, healthcare support staff and allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
However, union leaders insisted workers deserved a pay deal that recognises their “sacrifices” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Willie Duffy, head of health for the Unison trade union in Scotland, said: “We are disappointed that the Scottish health secretary has made this announcement when Unison had previously written to her rejecting this offer.”
The union is concerned about how the interim pay rise will impact on salary talks, with Mr Duffy insisting: “We do not agree that NHS pay cannot be resolved until the summer of 2021. We are calling for pay negotiations to commence immediately.
“NHS staff need a pay settlement that recognises the sacrifice so many have made over the pandemic and starts to restore some of the real-terms pay cuts of the past decade and show how much the Government values the role they play in Scotland.”
The 1% interim pay rise comes after NHS workers in Scotland received a one-off £500 payment from the Scottish Government as a thank you for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Freeman stressed she was committed to reaching a pay deal that was “fair, affordable, and sustainable”.
The Health Secretary said: “The NHS is founded on the hard work, professionalism and dedication of our staff, and I and millions across Scotland are hugely and constantly impressed by, and grateful for, their skill and commitment, particularly given the added and sustained pressure placed on the service by Covid-19.”
While she said there would “inevitably be a wait for the 2021-22 Agenda for Change pay negotiations to conclude”, she added the interim increase would be backdated from December, with payments showing in March wages.
This will ensure that staff “benefit from an increase in pay earlier than would usually be the case”, she said.
Ms Freeman added: “We want to agree the full pay settlement negotiations as quickly as is practicable. This interim step, alongside the one-off £500 bonus, should make clear that we want to support our staff regardless of the impact of the UK Government’s delay to the budget.
“Both this interim increase and the full settlement will, once agreed, then be topped up in due course as necessary to ensure the final settlement is fully backdated to December 2020.”
Susan Aitkenhead, director of Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said the country’s nursing staff deserve better.
She said: “Our members will be angry and disappointed that the Scottish Government is not willing to do more to value the skills and expertise of the nursing profession.
“This is not the substantive pay award our members are looking for and does not recognise their contribution.”
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