The next phase in the NHS pay campaign


We have entered the next stage of our campaign to improve NHS pay.

We have entered a formal dispute with the government and employers in the NHS and are moving to the formal ballot. I am writing to all our members in the NHS to inform them of this, and I have copied the full detail below so you can read it too. It contains all the information you need on the timing and process of the ballot, so please read it carefully.Let’s be honest – NHS staff are busy. Many of your colleagues might not have had the time to think about how important it is they Vote YES for the NHS. That’s where you come in. 

Thousands of you have already signed up to volunteer. From spreading the word to colleagues in your workplace, to signing up to our phonebanks and our textbanks, you are the person your colleagues want to hear from most. Will you join us?

As of this week we are formally in dispute with the government and employers in the NHS. We will shortly begin the formal process of balloting for industrial action. Members will receive their ballot by post from 27 October.

Getting a decent pay rise is vital to ensure that you can pay your bills and provide for your family. It’s also what we need to address the NHS staffing crisis. And right now there is no option other than balloting. The government refuses to negotiate and we’ve tried everything else to make them listen. To challenge and improve the pay award we must demonstrate that our members are ready and prepared to take effective industrial action in the NHS.

The public supports you and understands that your pay matters. If we don’t take this chance to fight back on pay we may not get a better opportunity to stand up for the NHS.

The ballot process

The law requires us to ballot you by post. Papers will be posted on 27 October. You will need to return yours by post in the freepost envelope we provide. I urge you to do that as soon as possible once it arrives.

The law also means that unless the majority of your colleagues vote for industrial action you will not be able to strike, and neither will anyone else in your employer. And the threat of strike action is the only way to force the government to open talks on improving NHS pay.

The ballot will close on 25 November but you need to post it early to make sure it arrives in time – taking account of postal delays. Our ballot helpline will be open from 1 November until noon on 21 November – 0800 0 857 857

Our dispute

We want the government to open talks on improving NHS pay. So far, they have refused. This means only the threat of strike action has the chance to do this. To do that, we need a majority of NHS staff to Vote YES

UNISON asked the government and employers to give NHS staff a meaningful pay rise for 2022. A rise above inflation, with the real living wage as a minimum, offsetting pension contribution increases and making up for past pay cuts. We also asked for an urgent package of retention measures to convince staff to stay in the NHS including correcting unfair pay banding and ensuring the right pay for all hours worked.

The pay award decided by government and implemented by employers is just £1,400 or 72p an hour. Nowhere near enough to meet our demands for a meaningful pay rise – and with no meaningful action on the retention measures we asked for.

That is why UNISON is in dispute over this year’s pay award and why we are balloting for industrial action.

Our responsibilities to patients

All unions must organise industrial action so that it does not wilfully or maliciously endanger ‘life, limb and property’. Public safety is a key consideration.

While industrial action relies on creating disruption and inconvenience to pressure employers, in UNISON we know that health workers are very reluctant to do anything that would negatively affect patients. But we also know that health workers are seeing day in and day out how understaffing is harming patients while the government fails to deliver the decent pay rise that could help make staffing levels better.

If there is industrial action in the NHS, employers have a responsibility to make contingency plans and ensure there is emergency staffing cover to protect patient safety. There are established practices around how that is negotiated with UNISON branches.

If there is a successful ballot in your employer, branches will discuss all this with members. If you end up being exempted from a period of industrial action so you can work as part of those agreed emergency cover arrangements your branch will let you know how you can support the action in other ways.

Protecting you at work

One of our most important duties is to ensure that you can take effective industrial action in a way that protects your employment and profession. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) have all confirmed that registrants have the right to take part in lawful industrial action.

Beyond this, by ensuring we run a lawful ballot we make it automatically unfair for an employer to dismiss someone for taking part in any lawful industrial action within 12 weeks of the action.

Getting involved

The biggest impact you can have on improving NHS pay is to Vote YES and return your ballot paper by post when we send it on October 27.


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