Majority votes to reject ‘miserly’ 3% award in SoR pay consultation

But ‘no clear support yet’ for industrial action in England and Wales

Published: 05 October 2021 Trade Union & IR

The SoR is warning that mounting anger and frustration from members could lead to calls for industrial action in 2022 unless the UK government rethinks its approach to pay and reward for NHS staff, following the SoR member consultation on the 3% pay award for members in England and Wales.

The majority of SoR members responding indicated they did not want to accept the 3% pay award in England and Wales. Some 63.6% rejected the award while 36.4% of respondents indicated they would accept the award, albeit reluctantly in many cases.

The 1,695 rejecting the award were also invited to comment on whether they would consider taking industrial action if it was thought this could increase the offer. An overwhelming majority of the 1,684 respondents (89%) said they would consider participating in industrial action.

The SoR executive director of industrial strategy and member relations, Dean Rogers, said: ‘We managed the consultation slightly differently this time, asking members for a view but  also giving them an opportunity to comment on why they had said they were for or against accepting the award.

‘This gave us valuable and deeper insight into members’ thinking. The sense of growing frustration and anger with the way staff are being undervalued and disrespected by political leaders was evident in the significant majority of comments, including many who indicated a reluctant acceptance of 3% at this point.’

Dean added: ‘The human impact of the pandemic on frontline staff came through in the members’ comments, with many genuinely moving responses.

‘Our members care deeply about what they do and take enormous pride in giving patients the best possible care. They know that their situation is unsustainable.

‘Before Covid, understaffing and excessive hours were commonplace. Exhaustion and burnout levels are at their highest since the start of the pandemic. High sickness absences and unsafe hours, with many staff struggling to get a break, are feeding a growing cycle of despair. A miserly pay award, even below what members already earning more in Scotland received, sends a morale- sapping message to the NHS frontline – many feeling insulted.’

More than 3,000 members responded to the consultation, with 2,667 answering the questions and the others offering only a comment. This represented a lower turnout (17%) than the SoR would usually expect. This was in line with the trend across all NHS unions, reflecting the exhaustion and lack of support for the award even if many members are not yet ready to consider taking industrial action.

Dean continued: ‘Talking to other NHS trade union leaders, the picture is very similar across the professions. You cannot separate the staffing crisis, caused by years of undervaluing staff and poor workforce planning, from people feeling undervalued. Few of us think there is a magic number that could be offered to solve the recruitment and retention crisis at a stroke – but this offer sent the message that the government doesn’t care enough.

‘Add in its rhetoric around asking more to meet the pandemic backlog and a promise that next year will be even tougher – or that somehow NHS staff should be grateful to get anything – and it’s hard to see how the growing frustration won’t at some point explode.’

The UK’s political administrations and the NHS leadership have claimed that protecting and investing in staff is a top priority. Dean said: ‘They now have to start proving they really mean it – with more money and a coherent and serious workforce plan, delivered and monitored in partnership with us. Instead, they’ve created a hostile environment around public sector workers, encouraging fewer to sign up and more to give up.

‘They need to change their strategy. If they don’t, members across the NHS and the public sector may well fight back to protect themselves and force the change of direction.’

‘No clear support yet’ for industrial action

Following consultation with members on the 3% pay award, the SoR UK Council published this statement:

SoR UK Council has considered the outcome of the England and Wales pay award consultation and recent SoR pay consultation survey. These consistently show the excessive and unsustainable strain members are working under.

This is the context behind most respondents rejecting the award of 3%, sending a message that the government does not value this extraordinary effort.

The sense of professional commitment and duty behind this extraordinary effort means there is not, as yet, enough clear support for industrial action.

Industrial action is always a last resort. However, if the government seeks to enforce pension contribution increases and further below-inflation pay awards, or even a pay freeze, and expects to reduce NHS staff take-home pay, then support for industrial action will grow, as happened with the pension dispute in 2011. Such proposals would also damage already low morale.

If recruitment and retention of radiographers is the national priority, as the government and NHS leaders publicly say it is, then they must rethink their plans. The SoR will be supporting members in making this clear to politicians and the public over the coming weeks and months.

We will also be developing positive alternative ideas to broaden pay, reward and recognition for NHS staff, in consultation with members, reps, other unions and NHS leaders. We acknowledge the continued uncertainty about the 2021 award in Northern Ireland, and continue to press the administration to respond.