NHS trusts told to pay rise to avoid union action

Personnel director aims to split staff by side-stepping negotiations
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The Independent Online
NHS Trusts have been told to derail industrial action over nurses' pay by simply making the pay award.

If enough nurses and other staff take it, the unions chances of successfully organising action will be seriously undermined, Ken Jarrold, NHS director of human resources, has told health service managers.

With the unions other than the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Midwives balloting on industrial action and planning to co-ordinate the outcome at the end of August, "it is extremely important that we take decisive action now", Mr Jarrold has told managers in the text of a speech being delivered to meetings around the country, a copy of which has been passed to the Independent.

The Royal College of Nursing, he says, has "divided the staff side" by its decision to take local pay once 300 of the 500 NHS trusts have made offers. The time to act is now, Mr Jarrold says. There must be "a firm response from the management side so that staff and their representatives are left in no doubt about our determination to implement local pay".

Managers should try to reach local agreements. But where that is not possible, staff should be written to individually and told that it is intended to pay the award "on account" unless individuals object in writing.

It is legally essential that the payment is not imposed and is made with staff consent, Mr Jarrold says. But "it is not necessary for them to exercise a positive choice by saying yes". All they have to be given is "the opportunity of saying no".

Payments made in this way, he says, "are not being imposed". But managers should attempt to persuade their staff that "only by accepting full trust contracts can they avoid being caught up in national negotiations over which they can exercise little real influence and which can delay pay increases and disrupt local relations".

Mr Jarrold admits "there are risks in this approach". Staff might take the money and still take industrial action.

"However, acceptance of payments by substantial numbers of staff will make it difficult for the staff side to initiate or sustain industrial action at either local or national level."

And large numbers taking the money will allow the NHS "to demonstrate to the review body [which awards nurses pay nationally], the media and the public that staff have accepted local payments".

Unison, the public sector workers' union, said it had issued detailed advice to it branches on how not to accept the payment on account. "Even if trusts do this, it does not take people out of the dispute and may precipitate a dispute locally.

"As of last Friday, not one trust had reached agreement locally and trusts appear very reluctant to go down the road the NHS executive is advocating. They feel this dispute is the management's fault nationally, not theirs, and there has to be a quasi-national solution to it. When, as they often do, they have good relations locally, they do not want to jeopardise that by appearing to impose the increase."

The legal complexity of the situation - Mr Jarrold says it is "vital" staff are given the chance to say no - is shown by NHS trusts being recommended to pursue such action, while health authorities and the remaining directly managed hospitals do not have the freedom to make payments on account.