Last night's branch meeting voted unanimously to recommend branch members to vote to reject the latest pay offer believing that it is completely inadequate and that the government can be pushed to offer a better settlement by further strike action.
Ballot papers are starting to arrive and members are urged to return them straight away with a vote to reject.
The meeting discussed how it was the prospect of escalating action that forced the government to ask for talks and make the slightly improved offer in the hope of silencing the anger over years of pay cuts and cuts in the NHS.
The meeting criticised the offer for falling far short of Unison's aims of 1% consolidated pay rise for 2014/2015 and an above inflation pay rise for 2015/2016, while also opening the door to government sought reforms of the Agenda for Change pay scheme as negotiations on this are part of the pay offer.
The government has already applied for cuts in unsocial hours, and has previously indicated it wants to abolish incremental pay rises. The introduction of incremental freeze for higher bands in the pay offer sets a precedent for future negotiations, and should be rejected.
If the offer is accepted most staff will get only 1% over 2 years, though wages have fallen behind prices by at least 10%. The fact that no new money is being made available speaks volumes about the government’s attitude towards NHS pay - they are prepared to rob one set of NHS workers to buy the rest of us off, but won't tackle tax evasion that could raise more than enough money to fund the NHS.
The branch meeting reflected discussions between stewards and members across Oxfordshire trusts where the majority opinion expressed is that the offer does not address the issue of recent pay cuts and low pay, and opens the door to further cuts.
A delegate to the Women's and also the Black Members conference reported wide spread dissatisfaction on the conference floors at Unison Head of Health Christine MCAnea's announcement that the offer was "the best that could be got through negotiations". Our delegate reported that members could not understand why the action had been called off for such a poor offer when there was growing support for the strikes.
Even those set to benefit most from the pay offer have expressed the opinion that the deal should be rejected as "pathetic". Press headlines have focused on the lowest paid getting 5%; however this would apply to just 3,000 staff in England.
As the general election approaches the government is increasingly vulnerable to pressure. The last thing it wants is disruption drawing attention to the scale of dissatisfaction with the state of NHS pay and crisis in the NHS. We have the best opportunity in years to win real changes - a strong vote to reject is essential to making the most of this opportunity.
Faced with a 12 hour strike the government approached the unions to make an offer in return for the strike being called off. This shows the power the two previous strikes had to force the government to talk when it previously had refused and imposed a pay freeze for most NHS staff for this year and next. Members will now be balloted as to whether they accept or reject the government's offer.
Intitial reactions from branch members has been to question the union leadership calling off the action. Many report the mood for the strike being good and believe the planned strikes could have forced the government to make greater concessions.
The branch is in the process of organising a branch meeting to allow members to discuss the offer and next steps in the pay campaign, including whether to launch a campaign for a cost of living supplement for all staff living in Oxfordshire.
The pay offer ony offers a very small rises for the lowest paid - at the expense of highest pay bands (detail at end with what the new payscale would look like if accepted). However there is nothing to address the substantial losses staff have suffered bearing the brunt of government imposed austerity. For the majority of staff there is still no pay rise this year, and for those who got the 1% consolidated, they will lose it at the end of the year, so in effect their pay will be the same next year if this deal is accepted - this will affect around 30% of NHS staff. For most staff the what is on offer the equivalent of a paltry 1% increase for the 2 years 2104-2016. The offer also serves the purpose of dividing the opposition to the government policy of keeping NHS wages depressed.
Not content with years of pay freezes that have seen NHS pay shrink by at least 10% the government is now seeking to cut wages further by asking the Pay Review Body to change the pay system that would see wages reduced further.
The government has attacked annual increments as "unfair and unaffordable" and said that unsocial hours payments "do not reflect modern practice".
The government has suggested options for changing unsocial hours premia which include:
If annual increments are abolished we can be sure that staff will not then be moved to the top of the current bands as the aim is to reduce the NHS pay bill further, meaning more cuts for exerienced staff if past increments are removed to equalise pay across bands.
These attacks can only undermine recruitment and retention of NHS staff.
The current pay dispute is essential to defeating future attacks on pay. Support the strikes on 29th January and 25th February.
1982 Pay Dispute: members of NHS nursing unions - which later merged to form UNISON campaigned and took strike action to win improved pay and conditions - what was won by previous generations is now being eroded. Time to Act!
The industrial action thousands of health workers have already taken has kept pay in the media spotlight and won public support for NHS staff. That action is helping us to win the argument over pay — even NHS leaders are now calling for a change of direction, recognising that more pay freezes will damage the NHS and patient care.
That puts more pressure on the government. Now we have to increase that pressure to make Jeremy Hunt change his pay policy and treat you fairly.
A fair deal for 2015
UNISON is very clear. This dispute is not just about the 1% PRB- recommended increase that was taken away from you last year. It is about the government’s plan not to give you a pay rise this year too.
That’s another year of your pay falling further behind the cost of living, of 77,000 staff earning below the Living Wage and of politicians saying you’re not worth a decent pay rise.
Now the government has announced plans to cuts unsocial hours payments which will make staff even more hard up and will make the recruitment problem worse.
Time to step up
That’s why we have planned two more days of strike action. A twelve hour strike between 9 a.m. and p.m. on Thursday 29 January and a 24 hour strike on Wednesday 25 February. Between these two strike days we are asking you to take your breaks and not to work for free. We will continue to work with employers to ensure that patient safety remains our priority during the action we are taking.
We know you support our fair pay campaign but it is only by standing together in UNISON that we can win a proper pay rise this year.
Step up and take part – help to make the action more successful and make a difference for yourself, your colleagues, your patients and the NHS.
The industrial action you have already taken is supported by the public and is really putting pressure on the government and NHS leaders.
In 2015 we will be increasing this pressure.
We will be asking you to take strike action again on Thursday 29 January and Wednesday 25 February.
In between these two days we will be asking you to take action short of strike.
It’s time to stand together in UNISON and fight for:
Finally, UNISON would like to thank you for your support in this campaign.
We know many of you will be working while others enjoy the Christmas break.
We send our best wishes for the festive season to your and your family.
Make a new year’s resolution to be part of the action in 2015.
How you can help
It is 8 years since NHS staff had a pay rise to match inflation, 8 years of pay not keeping up with prices, with hundreds of thousands of healthworkers becoming poorer as a result. Now most staff have been denied any pay rise this year or next, and to cap it all the government is demanding the Pay Review Body reduces unsocial hours payments next year.
These attacks are a kick in the teeth for staff who are working harder than ever to meet the growing demand for NHS services at a time that budgets are being cut; when NHS trusts can’t recruit staff and are relying on casual and agency staff to cover vacancies.
The assault on pay alone was enough to push many to support the call by 13 NHS unions to take strike actionon 24th November, but the deteriorating state of patient care and growing concern about the future of the NHS brought an added urgency and stronger support for the action.