Mary Alexander: All NHS staff want is fair treatment

TRADITIONALLY, health service workers are reluctant to vote for any action which might impact on patients. All that looks set to change. Very clearly, NHS staff are sending the message that “enough is enough”. In ballots run by trade unions such as Unite, Unison, and the GMB, thousands will have voted “Yes” to industrial action on 30 November.

Why are so many ordinary NHS staff so angry? The government has peddled the line that public sector pensions are “gold-plated”. When pay and pensions are under pressure everywhere except Britain’s boardrooms, this is a bit of mis-direction worthy of Derren Brown. But let’s take a closer look at the facts.

First, the NHS pension scheme receives £2 billion more in contributions than it pays out in benefits. Second, the UK coalition has forced through changes that disadvantage ordinary hard-working people – ignoring negotiations in 2008 by workers’ representatives to protect the public purse from rising pension costs.

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Third, the government is imposing pensions based on “career average” pay. It will also use the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index. Is this just boring detail? No, it’s another dodge designed to take your eye off what’s really happening. A lower standard of living for the likes of retired nurses, especially if you’ve worked hard to progress your career.

Finally, the government plans to link the NHS scheme to the state pension age. By 2020, this will be 68. .

Why are lowly-paid people with a history of public service being targeted in this way? Especially when boardrooms are allowed to reward their own thoroughly ordinary performance with an extraordinary 49 per cent pay rise?

Be prepared for an onslaught of spin about “bad nurses” from government-sponsored reports. The reality is our NHS staff give astonishing levels of care. In return, they’re not asking to be “looked after” like the government’s friends in the City. All they want is fair treatment.

• Mary Alexander is regional co-ordinator for Unite in Scotland..