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1. Pay cuts

Resolution submitted by the RCN Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch

That this meeting of RCN Congress is opposed to the pay cuts that are being imposed on the NHS workforce without consultation or due diligence to the current ‘equal pay for equal value’ pay system

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Progress reports

Submitted by: Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch
Council lead and committee assigned: Anne Wells, Membership and Representation Committee
Committee decision: Existing work addresses this issue
Members involved: Mike Travis, Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch

Final summary update May 2012

Protection and extension of the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay and career development system is a core element of the RCN’s pay strategy, which the Membership & Representation Committee (MRC) steers.

In 2010 MRC established a Task and Finish Group to develop a negotiating strategy on pay and pensions – the basis of the RCN’s response to both national and local attempts to cut pay, terms and conditions. The Task and Finish Group has involved stewards from across the UK in its work and has also consulted more widely through national reps conferences, where it has tested and developed principles underpinning the RCN’s approach as well as the strategy itself. The Task and Finish Group has also sought feedback from the UK Committees.

Through the position of Joint Staff Side Secretary of the NHS Staff Council, the RCN is uniquely placed to argue for the protection and extension of nursing staffs’ terms and conditions in the NHS and resist cuts in pay terms and conditions. RCN principles including improving patient care, equal pay for work of equal value and openness and transparency have been incorporated in the national Staff Side strategy.

The RCN has been successful in challenging and resisting national and local cuts to AfC, in particular threats to freeze or get rid of increments, including leading opposition to a proposal to freeze increments for some staff in England in 2011 and winning a significant Employment Tribunal alongside other NHS trade unions against Central Manchester Foundation Trust in February 2012.

Update at November 2011

Through the position of Joint Staff Side Secretary of the NHS Staff Council, the RCN is uniquely placed to argue for the protection and extension of nursing staff terms and conditions in the NHS and resist cuts in pay terms and conditions. Agenda for Change pay, terms and conditions are also the benchmark for the independent sector. The department has also developed an Independent Sector strategy to enable the RCN to engage more deeply with the employment position of our members who are not employed in the NHS. The RCN also holds the position of Deputy Chair of the NHS Pensions Staff Side group.

The protection and extension of the Agenda for Change pay system (AFC) is a core element of the work of the RCN’s Employment Relations department (ERD). ERD engages with the wider membership through Governance arrangements (Trade Union Governance Group, Council and the Membership and Representation Committee) and with the three national committees; Stewards, Learning Representatives and the Safety Representatives Committees. This work is also supported by engagement with the Council task and finish groups.

The Pay Strategy Task and Finish Group agreed a set of principles to inform future pay and pensions negotiations at its meeting in March 2011 which were subsequently shared with the wider reference group endorsed by the Membership Representation Committee. 

These include promoting the use of equal pay review and equality and diversity assessment and equal pay for equal value. 
The Task and Finish Group has continued to monitor developments in national negotiations on pay and pensions in the NHS Staff Council and provide member input and a strategic steer on key issues, most recently in respect of a staff side response to an invitation from the employers’ side to participate in discussions about ‘a modern and fit for purpose pay, terms and conditions framework in the context of financial challenges’.

During 2011 NHS trade unions have been following twin track strategy ‘holding the line’ in terms of maintaining Agenda for Change (which has been largely successful) at local level and at national level, seeking to clarify the employers’ agenda.

Earlier this year, the joint NHS trade unions issued advice to help local representatives deal with some NHS employers attempting to cut pay, terms and conditions.  RCN representatives have worked together with other trade unions locally to challenge those employers trying to impose changes to Agenda for Change.

NHS employers are now developing their budget plans for 2012/13, in even more challenging and constrained financial circumstances.  There is a likelihood of further cuts in jobs and pay, terms and conditions.  The RCN will issue further advice to local reps in the December Activate which expands on this joint union approach and aims to help reps continue to resist attacks on jobs, pay and conditions locally.

Following the invitation from employers at the 8 July NHS Staff Council meeting to participate in discussions about a ‘modern, fit for purpose national agreement on terms and conditions’, there have been a number of opportunities for the Task and Finish Group, MRC and RCN representatives more widely, at regional workshops and national conferences, to explore what these discussions might cover. 

At the same time national staff side officers have met with the employers and the Department of Health with the aim of getting the employers to frame a proposal which trade unions could consider and respond to; rather than collaborating on developing a joint proposal. 

Principles for any national discussion initially developed by the RCN’s task and finish group and tested with joint representatives at their national conference in June have been incorporated into the Staff Council’s approach.   

The NHS Staff Council discussed a paper at the 21 October meeting which set out both an outline employers’ proposal and importantly, also set out proposals from the staff side about possible discussion areas.

Staff side negotiators have been successful in arguing for an inclusive, wider discussion on both sides.  A joint ‘technical workshop’ was arranged on 5 December  and included lay delegates – the RCN’s delegation includes Lisa Falconer Chair UK Stewards and Anne Wells MRC Chair as well as Josie Irwin Head of Employment Relations and Gerry O’Dwyer from the Employment Relations team.  This is designed to explore the proposals in more detail.

The proposals were discussed at the national stewards’ conference on 12 November to help inform the RCN’s input.

Debate report

It was a dramatic opening to the Congress debates on Monday as delegates stood in silence for one minute in protest at the way the Coalition Government is treating nursing staff.

In a resolution proposed by the Greater Liverpool and Knowsley branch, the call was made to oppose the imposition of pay cuts on the NHS workforce.

Making an attack on the two-year pay freeze and the dilution of NHS terms and conditions, the proposer called for the radicalisation of the RCN membership. More stewards and safety representatives were needed, Congress was told, as delegates were asked to support the RCN’s employment relations team to ensure that RCN members were trained in the skills needed to protect nursing staff.

The resolution was seconded by Gareth Phillips, lead steward from the North Wales branch, who spoke eloquently on the issue of the NHS pension scheme. He reminded Congress that the recently re-negotiated NHS pension scheme produces an annual surplus for the Treasury and said that the description of the scheme being ‘gold plated’ was ‘complete and utter nonsense’.  He warned that further attacks on NHS pensions would lead to more nursing staff marching in protest and claimed that these would make last month’s march in London ‘look like a birthday party.’

The resolution was strongly supported by speakers from across the UK. Sue McBean asked delegates to consider students while Zeba Arif said she was issuing a rallying call to ‘step up and say we won’t take it.’

Mike Hayward attacked the politicians and bankers who created the current economic situation and urged RCN members to unite with all public sector employees to send the message that ‘this NHS isn’t for turning.’

Making reference to the new location of Congress in the city of Liverpool, Douglas Lockhart from the Dumfries and Galloway branch quoted The Beatles. “It’s been a hard day’s night and we’ve been working like dogs,” he said. Although he is retiring shortly, he said he could soon be a patient and as such, he needed nursing staff to be treated well.

The resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority.


The resolution was passed.

For:        96.30% (416)
Against:  3.70% (16)        
Abstain:            (4)


The Agenda for Change (AfC) terms and conditions of employment and pay scales for NHS employees in England are all determined between NHS Employers, government health departments and trades unions through the NHS Staff Council. In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland national partnership bodies negotiate agreements within the scope of the NHS Staff Council. In addition, annual ‘cost of living’ pay uplifts are determined by the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB).

Following the UK general election in 2010, the Coalition Government announced a two-year public sector pay freeze starting from April 2011 for all staff earning more than £21,000 per annum. However, the PRB will be able to recommend a minimum increase of £250 for staff earning under this level.

In December 2010 NHS Employers in England proposed, in return for a two-year freeze on pay increments for all NHS staff (including doctors and dentists), to protect the national AfC agreement and proposed a ‘no compulsory redundancy’ agreement for staff in AfC bands 1-6, and to do its utmost to retain staff in bands 7-9 in the workforce.  Following extensive consultation with members, in January 2011 RCN Council formally rejected these proposals – in line with other NHS trades unions.  An incremental freeze is also the subject of political debate in Northern Ireland, where the Minister has also pledged that there will be no compulsory redundancies. Scotland has a no redundancy agreement without any linkage to pay increments. In Wales, there is a commitment to no redundancies and there has been no official communication on freezing increments.

The RCN’s UK Frontline First campaign has indicated that 27,000 NHS posts could be lost in the future.

Meanwhile the NHS Pension Scheme – redesigned in 2008 following extensive consultation with scheme members to introduce a system of progressive contributions and a capped 14 per cent employer contribution - is under a range of pressures; Lord Hutton’s review of public service pensions and the Comprehensive Spending Review requirement that public sector pension schemes (with the exception of the armed forces) deliver savings of three per cent (raised from increased member contributions) over the 2012-2015 period. These increases are to be delivered within arrangements that must protect the low paid, are progressive (those who earn more, pay more), and minimise member opt-out from the scheme.

References and further reading

H M Treasury (2010) Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: interim report, London: HM Treasury. Available at:
(Accessed 3/2/11) (Web)

Royal College of Nursing (2011) Dr Peter Carter on the freezing of increments, London: RCN (video)