Public urged to join ‘slow handclap’ protest as nursing union announces strike over proposed 1% NHS pay rise

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Members of the public are being urged to join a mass slow handclap in protest at a government recommendation for a 1% pay rise for NHS workers.

As the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced it has set up a £35 million strike fund that can be used to provide compensation for loss of earnings and campaigning should members decide to down tools, UNISON – the second largest in the UK – is urging people to stand on doorsteps and balconies on Thursday 11 March at 8pm to show how they feel about the pay offer.

Many NHS workers said the 1% pay rise proposal would only see them take home around £3.50 extra per week.

The RCN Council – which had been campaigning for a 12% pay rise – said it had quickly set up its strike fund in order to have the finances available to its members should they wish to take action.

“In setting up this fund, the RCN will create the UK’s largest union strike fund overnight,” said a statement.

Dame Donna Kinnair – Chief Executive and General Secretary at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – has condemned health minster Nadine Dorries’ claim that 1% was “the most” the government could afford.

She called the offer “pitiful and bitterly disappointing”.

Dame Donna also warned the government to expect a “backlash” from up to a million NHS employees over its announcement on pay, saying: “The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers, and the public. It is not a done deal, but the government has revealed its hand for the first time.

“With the time remaining before the Pay Review Body recommendation, the government can expect a backlash from a million NHS workers.”

On top of that, Unite – which also represents tens of thousands of health service staff in the UK – has also warned that it too is considering industrial action amid growing anger at the pay proposals they branded an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.

Ameera Sheikh – an intensive care nurse and Unite representative – said increasing living costs had left people struggling on stagnant wages, and that the government’s support earlier in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic now felt “fake”.

“We have sacrificed so much since the start of the pandemic,” Ms Sheikh added.

“And that includes moving out of our family homes to live close to the hospital and protect our families and live in complete isolation, which is something that I’ve actually had to do. We are facing an increasingly dangerous workload in the intensive care unit, and a lot of staff being redeployed to ICU without basic intensive care training.

“Also, the lack of PPE and having to reuse PPE or wear expired PPE and risking our lives.”

The Labour party has also hit out at the government’s proposal of a 1% pay rise for NHS workers, with Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, labelling it “disgusting”.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer also said ministers must recognise the UK’s “COVID heroes”.

In response to the mounting backlash from the proposal and subsequent announcement of strike action, a government spokesman said earlier: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.

“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.

“That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,600 more nurses working in our NHS, and with nursing university applications up by over a third.

“The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”

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You can find more information about the ‘slow clap’ protest via the UNISON website here.

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