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Public sector pay restraint must continue, says Jeremy Hunt

Unions have condemned comments by health secretary Jeremy Hunt that pay restraint for nurses and other public sector workers must continue.

Unions have condemned comments by health secretary Jeremy Hunt that pay restraint for nurses and other public sector workers must continue.

Striking in Leeds
Unite, Unison and the Royal College of Midwives on strike in October 2014.
Picture: John Houlihan

The government announced in March this year that it would cap pay increases at a maximum of 1% a year between now and the next general election in 2020.

Mr Hunt has signalled the government’s stance remains unchanged, despite warnings from MPs last month the health service will struggle to recruit and retain nurses and other healthcare staff if it presses on with its ‘unsustainable’ pay caps.

In a letter to Jerry Cope, chair of the NHS Pay Review Body (RB), dated 2 August, Mr Hunt said the government wanted restraint to continue for the 2017-2018 pay award.

The RB is an independent organisation that recommends public sector pay levels to the government.

Mr Hunt said: ‘The government has made it clear that pay restraint in the public sector continues to be a crucial part of its plans for the continued prudent management of public finances to help support long term planning and to help protect jobs.’

In July, the Commons health select committee said the government needs to make the health service a more attractive workplace for permanent staff, instead of relying on expensive agency workers.

It heard evidence from Unison that if NHS pay had kept pace with the retail price index since 2010, the average nurse would be earning £4,700 more.

‘There is a risk that a rigid long-term squeeze on pay will affect the ability to recruit and retain NHS staff, and increase the reliance on more expensive agency staff’ the report said.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe told Nursing Standard the government's stance was damaging the health service.

'The government is determined to keep this 1% pay cap, despite the obvious damaging effect it is having on the health sector, especially nurses,' he said.

‘It’s affecting recruitment, retention and most of all morale.

‘Nurses have suffered for far too long, they have not had a pay rise for seven years now and it is long overdue to change.

‘They feel undervalued, under appreciated and are really struggling to make ends meet as inflation outstrips the 1% they are receiving.'

Thousands of members of Unite, Unison and the Royal College of Midwives went on strike in October 2014 after the government initially refused to accept the RB's recommendation of a 1% across the board pay rise.

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