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Nursing Union Sets Up £35m Strike Fund To Oppose “Pitiful” 1% NHS Pay Rise

5 min read

The Royal College of Nurses has laid the groundwork for strike action after calling the government's proposed 1% pay rise “pitiful”.

The union, which represents the majority of nurses in the UK, has confirmed it has set up a £35 million "industrial action fund" to support members who lose income during potential walkouts.

It comes amid a backlash to the government’s recommendations that NHS staff in England do not see their salaries rise by more than 1%.

But the RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair warned that the pay rise would amount to just £3.50 a week in take-home pay for an experienced nurse, and instead called for a 12.5% hike.

"This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing," she said. "The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public.”

The government has dismissed growing backlash to the pay increase, arguing that most of the public sector has seen pay freeze.  

Following the RCN's announcement of the strike fund, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson doubled down on the government's defence of the 1% pay rise. 

“A 1% pay rise for NHS staff is what is affordable while acknowledging all their work and commitment over the last 12 months," they said.

“All other public sector workers have had their pay frozen for 2021/22 apart from the lowest paid public sector workers.”

They added: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions," they said. 

“We've delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses with the average nurse paid now at £34,000 per year, and we’ll increase junior doctors pay as well by 8.2%.”

Asked if the government will ultimately give more than a 1% increase to NHS staff, they added: “We will not preempt the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies.”

The prime minister's spokeperson repeatedly refused to confirm whether this was the government's final offer, stating that  “a 1% pay rise for NHS staff is what is affordable”.

After last night’s announcement the RCN's governing council convened an emergency meeting and voted unanimously “to immediately set up a £35million industrial action fund”.

In a statement it added: “RCN Council are determined to have the finances available to our members should they wish to take action. 

“In setting up this fund, the RCN will create the UK’s largest union strike fund overnight. The next steps will be decided in conjunction with our members.”In 2017 the RCN’s members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action after a previous 1% pay increase, and there were protests outside hospitals and the Houses of Parliament.

Unite, which represents tens of thousands of NHS workers, is also warning of industrial action and will be shortly consulting its members.

The union called the suggestion of a below-inflation pay rise, which will be considered by the NHS pay review body in May, a “kick-in-the-teeth”.

"It shows an unyielding contempt by ministers for those who have done so much to care for tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients in the last year,” said Unite’s national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.

But health minister Nadine Dorries said she was “pleasantly surprised” with the 1% recommendation, pointing out most public sector workers have had their pay frozen this year.

And she defended the small increase in NHS salaries after a year dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, saying it “is the most we think we can afford”.

Dorries, a former nurse herself, told BBC Breakfast this morning: "I was actually surprised because I knew that we'd frozen public-sector pay, that no-one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise, so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer. "

She hit back against the government’s critics, saying they "would love to do more" but she trusts Rishi Sunak “in handling the nation's purse strings”.

In response Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, said: "NHS workers are furious at the government's recommendation of a 1% pay increase, published in their evidence to the PRB late yesterday afternoon - six weeks late.

"Ministers have followed this with an even more contemptuous defence of the paltry increase – essentially saying: 'It's better than nothing.'

"It's dismissive and insulting to NHS workers who have had an incredibly tough year keeping us all safe.”

Unison’s deputy head of health, Helga Pile, told LBC: “We’ve got nurses, we’ve got cleaners, we’ve got paramedics who are going on shift tonight and they feel gutted. 

“They feel gutted that the government is saying ‘all you’re worth is 1% and that’s all we’re going to give you’.”

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