NHS pay rise: Nursing union sets up £35 million industrial action fund amid mounting anger

Emergency meeting prepares the ground for possible industrial action

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
,Ashley Cowburn
Friday 05 March 2021 13:30 GMT

The Royal College of Nursing has announced it is preparing the ground for possible industrial action over the government’s proposed 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff.

The RCN Council revealed it had voted voted unanimously last night in an emergency meeting to immediately set up a £35 million industrial action fund which will be used to support frontline nurses in the event they take strike action. 

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Care revealed it was proposing only a 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff from April. It argued more was not affordable without impacting on efforts to recruit more staff to join the NHS.

Health unions responded angrily to the news and the chancellor Rishi Sunak was facing growing criticism over his failure to boost health or social care spending as he unveiled the Budget on Wednesday.

In a statement the RCN said: “Following the recommendation of a 1 per cent pay award by the Department of Health and Social Care in its evidence to the NHS pay review body, the governing council of the Royal College of Nursing convened an emergency meeting.

“At that meeting, RCN Council voted unanimously for the RCN to immediately set up a £35 million industrial action fund.”

It added: “A strike fund is an amount of money that can be used to support workers, who are members of a trade union, to provide some compensation for loss of earnings and campaigning during industrial action.

“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.”

Unite union — representing tens of thousands of NHS workers — also warned about the possibility of industrial action, describing the pay announcement as a “kick-in-the-teeth” given that inflation could reach two per cent by the end of 2021.

Piling pressure on the government to re-think, Sir Keir Starmer described the government’s recommendation as a “real insult” to those who have worked on the frontline during the pandemic and called for an above inflation rise for NHS staff.

“It is not good enough just to clap them: this is a real insult. They need to be properly recognised and properly rewarded. The prime minister tries to take credit for the vaccine rollout whilst cutting the pay of those who are actually delivering it, and it’s insulting.”

The Labour leader also reiterated his opposition against the announcement at the spending review last year to freeze all public-sector pay outside the NHS, saying: “We have to have a plan for the future to rebuild the foundations of our country.

“You don’t do that by freezing the pay of those at the frontline throughout this pandemic, public-sector workers, while at the same time giving people like Dominic Cummings a pay rise.”

The chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Danny Mortimer, said the threat of industrial action was “not a scenario any of us, least of all our staff would welcome”.

He said the government had previously appeared to want a higher pay award adding: “The position presented by the DHSC can only be a consequence of a Budget that comprehensively failed to deliver for health and social care.

“When the NHS pay review body publish their recommendations, the government must revisit this position so that the pay award is properly funded.”

Earlier health minister Nadine Dorries defended the proposals, suggesting the government could not afford to give NHS staff a pay rise of more than 1 per cent, but raised eyebrows when she said she was “pleasantly surprised” after being asked for reaction to the news during an interview with BBC Breakfast. 

“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 said.

Questioned on whether people would still be signing up to work for the NHS in light of the proposed rise, the minister said: “I believe nurses are about more than superficial soundbites, I think nurses love their job. They do their job because they love their job.”

She added: “I was a nurse myself ... I became a nurse because I loved nursing. I hope that those nurses who love their jobs too will stay in the NHS and stick with us through what is a difficult time.”

Later on Friday, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will host a No 10 coronavirus press conference to highlight the government’s announcement on Friday of a £79 million boost to mental health support for children and young people. However, the briefing will likely be overshadowed by ministers’ pay proposals for NHS staff.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in