pay negotiations - the devil is in the detail

 Josie Irwin 18 Jan 2018

Josie Irwin, RCN Associate Director Employment Relations, shares an update on pay talks.


Exploratory talks on Agenda for Change pay structure and contract reform have restarted after the festive break involving employers and Department of Health negotiators as well as the trade unions including the RCN.

We want to see if the money that the Chancellor said he would make available in return for ‘productivity’ and ‘contract reform’ can be used to make the pay structure better and fairer as well as giving staff a meaningful pay rise.

Negotiating a deal for 1.3 million NHS staff - represented by 14 trade unions, all with competing priorities, not to mention the complication of devolution, Wales and Scotland with separate pay policies, Northern Ireland with no government – is highly complex.

Although trade unions have competing priorities, our overall goals of closing the pay gap and investment in reform are simple, clear and bind us together.

We agree that valuing nurses is part of the solution.

Rising demand is central to the current NHS crisis. But it’s the ongoing nursing shortage that is making working conditions so desperate for staff and brought the NHS to a tipping point.

We need to stem the haemorrhage of experienced nurses voting with their feet by encouraging them to stay with a pay rise and good prospects of career advancement.

We also agree that we need to dispel the Government’s argument of productivity. It’s clear nurses can’t work any harder.

Capacity can be increased by different, more efficient ways of working, including better line management and leadership that make it easier for nursing staff to deliver safe, effective care. This will improve retention and reduce reliance on expensive agency staff. We need to build this into any deal.

We do, however, need to be realistic in our negotiations.

The money the Chancellor has promised if a deal can be done is a one-off. Economic conditions may be challenging now but the outlook post Brexit, which is scarily close – just over a year to go – is of even greater uncertainty. If we can’t do a deal now we are looking at the return of the cap or perhaps worse.

As with all negotiations, the devil will be in the detail and the extent to which all the parties – trade unions, employers, governments – feel they have won something. If we reach the stage when negotiators feel they have got the best possible package, members will be consulted and you will have your say.

We may not be able to do it all at once, but if we start the journey now and agree investment in reform over the longer term this will provide vital security against the uncertain economic and political environment post Brexit.

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Josie Irwin

Josie Irwin

RCN Associate Director of Employment Relations


Josie is the RCN’s chief negotiator. Her role includes providing leadership on pay and reward for nurses and health care assistants and direction on employment issues, including workforce planning, the working environment, health and safety and diversity.

Page last updated - 05/09/2018