Major ambulance workers' union pulls out of NHS pay process

Ambulance drivers are set to strike next week. Credit: PA

The GMB union - which represents tens of thousands of health-workers including ambulance workers preparing to strike next week - is pulling out of the process used by the government to set pay in the NHS, ITV News can reveal. 

In an internal document, the union says the Pay Review Body (PRB) is not independent of government and it is suspending its participation until "substantial reforms are made".

That means the GMB - with 15,000 ambulance workers including paramedics, as well as nurses and cleaners working in the NHS - will refuse to provide evidence to the board as part of next year's negotiations. 

The decision comes as another major health union, Unite, told ITV News that the pay review process was "not fit for purpose" and that it wants unions to come together to push for an overhaul. 

The NHS Pay Review Body is an advisory non-departmental public body but is sponsored by the Department of Health. It takes evidence from government and unions before recommending a pay increase. 

Steve Barclay has refused to discuss pay. Credit: PA

The health secretary Steve Barclay refuses to negotiate with the unions on the question of pay because of that process.

But now the GMB says its credibility is under "greater strain than at any point in its 50-year process". 

"Our members want to participate in a meaningful process, but the trust has been lost."

The document lists three key reasons that it rejects the government's claim that the PRB process is independent:

  • First it argues that the Treasury sets the annual remit, including the financial limits that the PRB must work within;

  • Second that it appoints and pays members of the PRB;

  • Thirdly that the government provides it with its secretariat.

"We can no longer take part in a process that has been subverted from its original purpose, and which is being used to defend an unprecedented attack on public sector workers’ pay...

"GMB, as one of the NHS unions and the largest union in ambulance services, is suspending its participation in the Pay Review Body until substantial reforms are made."

A spokesperson for Unite, another major union with a large number of NHS workers including paramedics, said: "Firstly the Pay Review Body is not independent.

"The government sets the envelope, which seriously limits the PRB's room for manoeuvre. Our members have totally lost faith in this process because it's too easy for the government to interfere.

"Unite says that the process is not fit for purpose."

The union is not going as far as the GMB in suspending its participation but said it wanted unions to work together to try to change the process.

He pointed out that NHS workers in Scotland had achieved a deal after the government there stepped away from the PRB and talked pay.

But in the House of Commons - at prime minister's questions - Rishi Sunak insisted that his government does talk to the unions and does appreciate nurses. He pointed out that last year nurses got a 3% pay rise when other public sector workers had their pay frozen. 

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A Department of Health and Care spokesperson said: “The independent pay review bodies (PRB) are made up of independent, industry experts.

“We encourage trade unions to partake as this PRB process is the established mechanism for determining pay uplifts in the public sector, outside of negotiating multi-year pay and contract reform deals.

“PRBs carefully consider evidence submitted to them from a range of stakeholders, including government and trade unions.

"They base their recommendations on several factors including the economic context, cost of living, recruitment and retention, morale, and motivation of NHS staff.”