The British public is being urged to join a mass slow handclap on Thursday evening in protest against the government’s proposed 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff.
Unison has announced the plan to mark opposition to the “insulting” size of the planned increase for health service staff – which has sparked a furious backlash since it emerged from chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget.
The organisation, which is the largest union in the UK, said people should stand on their doorsteps and balconies on 11 March at 8pm to show what they think about the “derisory” wage plan.
“Millions stood on doorsteps and clapped for health staff who’ve given their all. Let’s now stand up for their right to fair wages,” said Unison general secretary Christina McAnea.
“Give the chancellor a slow handclap for his miserly 1 per cent. Times may be tough but this deal is below-inflation and derisory. It’s like the worst of austerity is back.”
The Unite union has warned of industrial action amid growing anger at the proposals, while the Royal College of Nursing announced it will set up a £35m industrial action fund in response.
Downing Street has defended the proposed 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff, saying it was all that was “affordable” right now.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact Covid has had on the NHS and we want to honour this. But the pandemic has real consequences and we have done all that we can to protect jobs and save livelihoods.”
Sir Keir Starmer has said the government’s offer was a “real insult” and said NHS staff should be “properly rewarded”. The Labour leader added: “If I was prime minister I would be recognising and rewarding those on the front line in the NHS by giving them a pay rise.”
Holly Turner, a nurse from Colchester, said it was “absolutely devastating to see [the government] place no value in us whatsoever”.
She said: “Strike action would be a complete last resort for us and it would have to be something that could be planned carefully in order to keep our patients safe. But long term, if we’re going to keep our patients safe, if we need to take industrial action in order to do that, I think we will.”
Ms Turner added: “We are exhausted, we are demoralised, we are fed up – but there is also an increased level of anger.”
Multiple healthcare staff said the proposal from the government would see them take home around £3.50 extra per week.
Ameera Sheikh, an intensive care nurse and Unite representative, said increasing costs of living had left people struggling on stagnant wages. She said the support the government had shown earlier in the pandemic now feels “fake”.
“We have sacrificed so much since the start of the pandemic, and that includes moving out of our family homes to live close to the hospital ... which is something that I’ve actually had to do,” she said.
Health minister Nadine Dorries gave a series of media interviews on Friday morning defending the government’s position. She said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the increase and claimed nurses have received a 12 per cent increase in pay over the last three years.
However, frontline workers have branded these claims “lies”. Kelly Robbins, a nurse working in primary care in Brighton, said: “We listen to them on TV and they are lying, and it’s just painful and really debilitating to hear them say that.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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