By Olivia Henry
In 2022, workers spent more days on strikes than at any time since the 1980’s. Moving into the new year, unions have shown no sign of putting an end to these strikes in determination to secure a deal with the government concerning pay rises. Strikes have been taking place heavily in the public sector, potentially most notably amongst the nursing and ambulance services which make up large proportions of the UK’s NHS workforce.
Workers are experiencing the deepest wage squeeze in 200 years, conditions which have occurred due to severe economic consequences being faced in this country. For instance, the covid pandemic saw a pay freeze on many workers, a situation made worse by the war in Ukraine which saw a sizeable increase in the cost of energy. The recent cost of living crisis has also placed a huge economic burden on workers who are struggling to compensate for the dramatic incline in fuel, energy, and electricity prices, thereby limiting access to household goods.
The severity of the situation only seems to be intensifying as strikes are occurring more regularly, with the RCN having recently scheduled more to take place on the 6th and 7th of February in what the organisation warns will be the biggest strike action so far, affecting more than a third of NHS trusts in England. In addition to this, ambulance staff have announced a series of strikes which will be occurring throughout the month of February, affecting numerous areas within the UK.
The RCN is requesting a 19% pay rise although representatives have admitted that they are willing to meet the government “halfway.” Currently, the starting salary for a nurse in England sits at just over £27,000 a year whilst staff such as healthcare assistants, porters and cleaners are on lower pay bands. Ambulance workers are also asking for above- inflation pay rises as their average salaries last year were recorded as £46,643 for April 2021 to March 2022.
Since the start of the strikes in 2022, inflation rates hit 11.1% and it is estimated that the cost of raising pay to match this across the whole of the public sector will be £18 billion, an increase that the government has deemed as unaffordable. Instead, independent review bodies have been put in charge of pay rises but fourteen healthcare unions have come forward and said that they will refuse to cooperate with NHS pay review bodies on discussions about the 2023-24 pay deal.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has affirmed his certainty in the government’s ruling as he claims that this is the best way to ensure there are no “big economic impacts” in terms of causing an “inflationary spiral.” Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has also shown unwillingness to agree to the demand of a pay rise, worrying that it would “take money away from patient services, essential services that we need to invest in given the backlogs from the pandemic.”
Current economic difficulties in our country mean that access to healthcare is becoming heavily restricted, a reality that is resultant of the lack of compassion of the UK governmental forces towards the needs of the workers. Although it is regrettable that inconvenience is caused, NHS staff should not bear responsibility for such consequences as it is within the fundamental rights of the workforce to withdraw their labour in accordance with their own discretion. As this right is growing more limited over time, it is within our duty as members of the public to support such action in order to keep putting pressure on the government so that service workers are satisfied.