Unison threatens strike action over health service pay

NHS workers march down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh yesterday to protest against a cap in public sector pay. Photograph: Greg Macvean
NHS workers march down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh yesterday to protest against a cap in public sector pay. Photograph: Greg Macvean
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The union representing 65,000 NHS workers in Scotland will hand in their request for a pay rise, for student nurses to be paid a living wage and for a realignment of nursing pay bands at Holyrood tomorrow.

Unison made the announcement at a “Scrap the Cap” protest rally outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday afternoon.

It mirrors the demand for a 3.9 per cent pay rise and extra £800 to make up for the cut they have seen in recent years that was presented to the Chancellor Philip Hammond a fortnight ago.

But crucially, the union are asking that student nurses in Scotland receive a living wage as opposed to the bursary they currently receive and nursing pay bands are realigned so those moving up the scale do not lose out on valuable overtime. The nursing and midwifery vacancy crisis has intensified in recent weeks with a record of around 2,800 posts unfilled at the end of March, a 27.5 per cent increase from last year, and the Royal College of Nursing (Scotland) at odds with the Scottish Government over the number of student nurses required to fill the posts.

Unison Lothian branch chairman Tam Waterson said there was now a real possibility of strike action.

He said: “At the moment our pay is still determined by the review body. The pay cap has still not been scrapped.

“We are looking to send a message to both the Westminster and Scottish governments that health service workers and public service workers have had enough.

“We’ve had a six-year pay freeze which in real terms is a 14 per cent pay cut.

“Enough is enough and if the politicians don’t start delivering to the health service then we’re likely to have the first public sector pay strike in Scotland since 1982.”

At present the bursary for student nurses in Scotland for 2017/18 is £6,578 at the start of the course.

Scottish Labour Health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said the party “fully supports” the Unison demand.

“Anything less than an inflation matching rise will simply be another pay cut for staff who have already suffered under the public sector pay cap for too long,” he said.

Fourteen unions including Unison and the Royal College of Nursing joined forces to ask the Chancellor for the pay increase saying it was unfair that ministers had chosen to selectively lift the cap by agreeing a rise for police and prison officers.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government was the first government in the UK to commit to lift the 1 per cent pay cap for public sector workers in Scotland and we will honour that pledge.

“NHS employees are the health service’s most valuable asset, and we value their contribution enormously which is why we have always followed the recommendations of the independent Pay Review Body on both pay uplifts and progression, and provided additional increases for anyone earning less than £22,000.

“That means that under this government a qualified nurse in Scotland is paid £312 more than counterparts in England and Wales and all entry level support staff earn over £1,000 more than their counterparts in England.”