RCN congress

RCN members reject government plans to scrap unsocial hours pay

RCN members have voted unanimously to reject government proposals to cut unsocial hours payments for NHS staff.

Richard Beauchamp John Houlihan

Proposing the resolution at RCN congress in Bournemouth today, RCN Essex branch member Richard Beauchamp expressed concern over  government plans to provide NHS services seven days a week, at no additional cost. He said the plans could lead to unsocial hours payments – the pensionable pay nurses receive in addition to their basic pay for working weekends, nights and bank holidays – being scrapped.

‘We know the sacrifice we make on bank holidays and weekends,’ he said. ‘We sacrifice time with our families.’

He cited statistics showing that one third of NHS staff depend on their unsocial hours payments, and nearly three quarters have said they would not work weekends if this pay was withdrawn.

‘These hours need to be compensated,’ he said. ‘Nurses do not live to work, we work to live.’

College members who supported the resolution argued that nurses could be gravely affected by any moves to scrap the payments, suggesting that some nurses may have to quit work because childcare would no longer be affordable, sell their cars and homes, or revert to working more bank shifts.

Backing the resolution, RCN Lothian branch member Emma Eccles said she works at least two out of every four weekends.

‘This is time away from my family and time away from my friends,’ she said. ‘We put in 12-hour shifts without any complaints. These extra payments we get make the time away from our families slightly more bearable. The government should be increasing our wages, not making even more cuts.’

Claire Topham-Brown, an RCN steward from the Cambridgeshire branch, said taxi drivers operate different tariffs to reflect the fact they work 24 hours a day, and compensate for their unsocial hours.

‘The public purse should continue to pay us for the work we do outside of 9am to 5pm,’ she said.

Ahead of the debate on unsocial hours payments, 97% of nurses also voted in favour of an emergency resolution calling on RCN council to oppose government proposals to inhibit unions’ industrial action.

RCN UK Stewards Committee chair Graham Revie, who proposed the resolution, said: ‘Not only is this proposal wrong, it is regressive and it takes us back to the old days when employers could dictate our wages and treat employees as chattels.’

Former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos, of Greater Liverpool and Knowsley branch, said: ‘They have already taken your pensions and they are already coming for your pay. Mr Hunt has told us that the next negotiations are to take away your terms and conditions and pay for a seven-day NHS.

‘We do not look lightly on strike action but we should at least have the option to choose it, if necessary,’ she said.

RCN council member Dave Dawes said the government should introduce electronic voting to boost nurses’ turnout at the ballots, and therefore satisfy any threshold allowing strike action.