Labour Market

Nurses should only expect minor improvements in the government’s pay offer

Commenting on the ongoing NHS nurses’ pay dispute, Professor Len Shackleton, labour market expert at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

“Excessive union pay demands backed with strike threats are a staple of collective bargaining. So is initial employer intransigence. Disputes are, however, usually settled somewhere between the extremes as both sides learn more about their counterparts’ real position.

“This is an elaborate game, played out for more than a century in countless disputes. The RCN, however, is new to the game, and seems to be relying on public gratitude for the care which nurses provide to shift the final settlement closer to its own position than that of a government which has plumbed new depths of unpopularity.

“They may have got this wrong, however. If a strike actually occurs, and hundreds of thousands of patients find their treatment postponed and waiting lists expand beyond the seven million or so we already have, that gratitude could disappear pretty quickly.

“On the other side, the government knows that offering even half of what the nurses are asking for would be difficult at a time when belts are being tightened right across the public sector.

“As nurses constitute only about a third of the workers covered by the recent NHS Pay Review, there would be pressure from everybody from doctors, to radiographers, to porters for an equivalent pay hike. There are also many in the wider public sector doing vitally important jobs – the police, the fire service and so on – who would feel aggrieved. These were people who suffered from the public sector pay freeze last year and didn’t get the special uplift which NHS workers received. At the same time, there are very many private sector workers who may have lost jobs and pay during lockdown and furlough, while NHS workers did not.

“There is room for some minor improvements in the government’s offer, perhaps around the detail of pension contributions, but nurses expecting their new-found militancy to lead to anything like a 17 per cent pay increase are surely going to be disappointed.”


Notes to editors

Contact: [email protected] / 07763 365520

IEA spokespeople are available for comment and interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *