Health unions accept `national' pay deal

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

The threat of industrial action by 600,000 nurses and other health workers was averted last night after union leaders accepted a deal which involves the controversial introduction of a national minimum wage.

After a day of talks, employees' representatives agreed a settlement in which local deals with NHS trusts will be under-pinned by a mechanism to protect the lowest paid. Union leaders will argue the deal concedes the principle of a national minimum wage when the Government is attacking Labour for espousing such a policy.

Under the peace formula there would be a two-year bargaining sequence. In the first year the 500 trusts would negotiate their own pay deals. In the second minimum pay rates would be uprated nationally, based on a calculation of the average local rates. New awards from NHS trusts in the second year would be paid on top of nationally imposed minimums.

Bob Abberley, head of health at Unison, the biggest union in the sector, said the formula would protect health service staff until the next election when he hoped that Labour would win. He agreed that the formula was a compromise. "After 16 years of Tory Government a compromise constitutes a victory," he said.

The Department of Health said ministers had always sought the development of trust-based wage bargaining in a national framework. The plan would ensure that local management could respond to labour market conditions in their area.

Absent from the talks was the Royal College of Nursing, which has adopted a policy separate from Unison and other health unions representing NHS therapists. The RCN is determined to achieve a de facto national settlement by signing acceptable local deals.