Holly Johnson, a staff nurse at Sheffield’s cancer hospital, talked to Alison Brown from Solidarity.
Why has the issue of pay, in particular, mobilised nurses, more than privatisation, cuts and safety in the NHS?
Pay freezes, pay cuts and expanding roles for all NHS workers are part of the dismantling of the NHS. Inequality of our pay affects well-being. This has a direct effect on patient safety. If pay is low, it does not attract people into the workforce, does not make them feel valued. That, combined with poor working conditions, makes it hard to retain staff, thus affecting safe staffing levels and ultimately patient care.
Our pay has been frozen for 10 years. The pay deal in 2018 did not even match inflation. People are struggling to pay their bills and rely on overtime to make ends meet.
Nurses and other NHS workers are using food banks, are in debt, unable to save and making tough decisions about which bills to pay. We are skilled workers and the pay does not match. This, and being purposefully missed out of the public sector pay rises on the back of work done during covid, was the final push for many of us.
This is a fight for a pay rise, yes, but is also a fight to protect the NHS and bring it back into the hands of the public. Many NHS staff don't want to leave their jobs, but we are losing experienced staff who are hard to replace. Recruiting numbers are at their lowest. If pay was fair and our work recognised it would help to reduce the need to use private agencies to bump up our staffing numbers.
We deserve a pay rise. Over the last 10 years, in real terms the freeze has meant a 20% pay cut. We are asking for 15%.
What do you think is the best strategy now for winning 15%?
We are continuing to have conversations in workplaces and with family and friends, spreading the word and using social media to build and raise awareness. We are encouraging people to join and get engaged in their trade unions. We are putting pressure on MPs to show their support and want as many people as possible to write to them.
Join NHS Workers Say No! and Nurses United and keep informed. There are over 83,000 members on the national facebook group. Further small actions are in the pipeline also, "Badge Wednesdays" and local workplace demos included. On Fridays at 8pm we want people to share a short video on social media to say why they support a 15% pay rise for NHS workers.
What’s the relationship of the campaigners to the existing trade unions?
Many of us are active in our union branches and are reps too. Those that haven't been engaged are now. We are encouraging people to pass motions in their branches.
We have had support from GMB and Unite, who back 15%. RCN is pushing for 12.5% and Unison a straight £2000 for everyone.
No union has invested in face to face campaigns for decades. That's why this grassroots movement has been successful and will continue to be successful.
Some have been disappointed by the initial lack of support from the unions, that it's taken a grassroots movement to create actual action for our workers, but we are continuing to build and getting our unions involved and working with them to win. We are putting resources into teaching people how to become organisers on the ground.
Do you think health workers will take industrial action?
There are a significant number of NHS workers willing to take industrial action. If you look at other countries where nurses take industrial action, they tend to be better paid and have better working conditions including better staffing. So it is better for patients.
We've tapped in to what staff really want and their anger. We are organising in the workplace and we're trying to be systematic about how we build up structures on the ground to win.