Health unions agree new pay formula

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Leaders of the biggest health union yesterday ratified a new pay formula for the National Health Service after the Government agreed to a national pay award next year in order to avoid industrial action.

Last year, senior NHS managers insisted that there should be no central wage offer and that all pay rises should be determined locally.

The shift in the Government position was a critical part of a quid pro quo to win acceptance of a radical new negotiating structure thrashed out in 12 hours of talks which ended early yesterday.

Leaders of Unison and other unions representing a wide range of NHS professionals agreed to accept a framework accepting local deals underpinned by a strong element of national input.

The health executive of Unison later yesterday unanimously accepted the formula as the best that could be achieved through negotiation and agreed to recommend it in a poll of its 350,000 members. Unions representing a further 300,000 NHS staff are also balloting their members on the deal.

Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, said the formula meant that local pay was now firmly established in the health service. He said that an increasing proportion of employees' wages would now be set at local level. There would now be an increasing amount of local flexibility in the contracts of existing personnel on national terms.

Mr Dorrell pointed out that new staff could be employed on trust contracts outside the settlement struck with unions yesterday. The limited number of trusts who have already opted out of the central bargaining structure will not be affected.

"Local pay is right for the NHS. It supports a modern, flexible NHS that can be more responsive to local needs and allows trusts to reward staff fairly for the job that they do."

The Royal College of Nursing, the largest union for nurses, which took no part in the negotiations at the Department of Health, said the formula would benefit the lowest paid the NHS, but had limited relevance to qualified nurses.

A spokeswoman said the college would continue its campaign to secure a de facto national deal of 3 per cent "without strings".

Bob Abberley, head of health at Unison, said the college had been "left out in the cold" by the settlement.

Mr Abberley expected that more than 600,000 employees would accept the formula, "and there's nothing the RCN can do about it".