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Government could break minimum wage laws unless NHS given £280m, say unions

30 September 2016

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and other unions representing health service employees in the UK have called on the NHS pay review body to recommend an above-inflation pay rise.

In the submission, the unions have warned that the 1% public sector pay cap is no longer sustainable as trusts already struggle to recruit and retain staff and the NHS faces a workforce crisis.

The submission is calling for a pay increase that begins to bring pay back to historic levels, as well as a return to UK-wide pay scales, with staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving the same pay rates as staff in Scotland.

If the government continues with current plans, £280 million will need to be injected into the NHS by 2021 or ministers will be in breach of their own minimum wage laws, according to the health service unions.

The 13 NHS unions involved in the submission to the NHS pay review body are British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British and Irish Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, Society of Radiographers, UCATT, UNISON and Unite.

The national living wage – the minimum wage for workers over the age of 25 – is currently £7.20 an hour.

But with the government insisting on a 1% pay cap across the NHS, the wages of those on the lowest pay scales, such as hospital porters, cleaners and healthcare assistants, will fall below the legal minimum by 2021.

The unions are also calling for a return to UK-wide pay scales, saying that staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland deserve to receive the same pay rates as health workers on the equivalent grades in Scotland.

Since 2012 the government has restricted the remit of the NHS pay review body, so they have not been allowed to make recommendations outside the one per cent public sector pay policy.

As NHS pay is now different in the four devolved nations, Northern Ireland’s lowest paid health workers will fall below national living wage rates next year, in England and Wales it will happen the following year, and in Scotland by 2021.

However, both Wales and Scotland are delivering on policy commitments to pay in line with the Living Wage Foundation rate of £8.25 outside of London.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The ongoing erosion of nurses’ real-terms pay is unsustainable and puts patient care at risk.

“Nursing staff are struggling to pay the bills, forced to work extra shifts to make ends meet and some are even relying on foodbanks. They have put up with a declining standard of living for six years because of their commitment to caring for their patients, but they can only be stretched so far and we are now in the grips of a recruitment and retention crisis.

“At a time when the gap in earnings between nursing staff and other graduate professions is growing, the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is unsustainable. Trusts are already struggling to recruit, and with an ageing workforce will find it increasingly difficult to persuade nurses to keep working.

“This recommendation is not just about treating staff fairly for the work they are doing. It is about getting a grip on workforce planning in the NHS and helping trusts to recruit and retain the staff they need to provide safe patient care.”

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