NHS trusts told to drop strings on nurses' pay

Health chiefs advise unconditional local deals to end RCN dispute
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The Independent Online
In an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in the nurses' pay dispute, senior health service management is encouraging National Health Service trusts to drop conditions attached to pay offers.

Ken Jarrold, director of human resources for the NHS, has told local managers that while the "strings" typically accompanying offers are reasonable, the objectives can be met "without direct linkage to pay".

The heavy hints have been dropped by Mr Jarrold during his "roadshow" briefing sessions for managers. The strategy seems to be aimed at meeting an initial target set by the Royal College of Nursing of 300 trusts offering 3 per cent without conditions. Once that "critical" mass has been achieved, the RCN will begin signing deals and the college believes that the other 150 trusts will fall into line.

Senior officials at the RCN yesterday predicted that they were within weeks of achieving their aim, but indicated that the college might be prepared to take industrial action at trusts which insist on conditions.

Tom Bolger, RCN official for south-east England, said it would be decided at local level how to put pressure on recalcitrant trusts. "We wouldn't rule anything out within the constitution." he said. In June the RCN's rule book was amended to allow its members to take limited industrial action.

The college calculates that 212 trusts have offered the full 3 per cent so far and that the trend has been gathering pace since Mr Jarrold started his briefing sessions.

The NHS board believes the RCN will be accepting the principle of local negotiations when it begins to sign deals and that that will form a critical step in management's ambition to dismantle central bargaining. Nurses have been offered 1 per cent nationally and up to 2 per cent to be negotiated locally.

An RCN decision to begin signing will also undermine the tactics of other employees' groups, including Unison, the largest health union, which are balloting their members on industrial action to prevent trust-by-trust deals.

Bob Abberley, head of health at Unison, pointed out that it had taken since February for some 200 trusts to offer the full 3 per cent. "It is about time Mr Jarrold sat down and negotiated with us, rather than try to divide and rule."

As part of his strategy to force through local settlements, Mr Jarrold has advised trusts to start paying the 1 per cent national offer plus the local top-up to individual employees who raise no objections.

In a set speech, Mr Jarrold has told trusts that the most common strings on offers are penalties to discourage absence and extra pay for meeting locally agreed targets. Managers are also attempting to convert special leave days on premium rates into annual holiday and remove employees' option of being paid in cash.

Mr Jarrold has said: "These objectives are entirely reasonable. However, it may be that they can be achieved without direct linkage to the pay offer."

He is understood to be more concerned about establishing the principle of trust-based bargaining, than pushing through productivity gains.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that virtually all trusts had made offers and insisted that the NHS expected managers to continue to pursue local objectives as part of their agreements.

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