Photo: Gaz de Vere
NHS staff and members of the public marched in Basildon on Saturday (July 3rd) to demand a fair pay rise denied last year by the Government during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Anger is growing over the Tories’ derisory 1% pay rise offer, as nurses’ unions consider industrial action to demand better pay, an end to health service privatisation and to highlight threats to patient safety due to working conditions. Leah Sparks, a Thurrock nurse and RCN steward, was one of the main organisers of the South Essex mobilisation. We reprint her heartfelt speech below in full:
I really appreciate you turning up here today.
This just goes to show the depth of support there is for a 15% pay rise.
The #NHSPay15 campaign was formed back in July last year when NHS workers were excluded from the public sector pay increase. Understandably this caused a tremendous amount of anger amongst NHS workers, who felt undervalued and demoralised, given that we had been at the forefront tackling the pandemic, keeping our communities safe and kept this country going.
Since then organisations such as Nurses United have supported activists like myself to organise marches, bridge demos and online rally’s, with a huge focus on having as many conversations as possible with colleagues, supporters, family and friends to raise awareness and build power amongst the workers to fight for a restorative pay rise.
Many are actually unaware that NHS workers have lost 20% of their pay over the last ten years. So whilst the cost of living is going up, our salaries are not. It’s therefore no wonder why we have over 100 thousand vacancies within the NHS. Our pay is directly linked to the recruitment and retention crisis we are facing. Lots of staff are either retiring early, considering leaving the NHS after this horrendous last year, or even leaving the NHS for better paid work, as financially it’s just not do able anymore.
This puts patients at risk.
Unfortunately I found myself in a situation 3 years ago where I became a single parent and the responsibility of paying the mortgage and bills fell to me and me alone. So naturally, on a part time salary, working within the NHS, I could barely provide for my boys. I worked some bank shifts at the weekends to try and earn some extra money, but that enivetiably meant I was then not spending any quality time with my sons. I received help from my mum and dad and I claimed for universal credit. Things I never imagined I would end up having to do or ever foresee happening to me.
I appreciate I’m not unique and there are likely many others in the same position struggling financially. And really in this day and age, as one of the richest countries in the world, no one should be living in poverty and everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage for the job that they do to ensure they can actually afford to live.
If we do not see a fair restorative pay rise for all NHS workers we are at risk of losing experienced, highly skilled workers from the profession, which will result in an increasing amount of unsafe staffing ratios, compromising patient care and safety.
I am an RCN steward and I am also on the Eastern board. I took on these roles so that I could make change happen but we need so many more of our frontline workers to take on these roles.
We are the union. They exist because when we work together we can win big. It’s how we even have our NHS, from working together for what’s best for all of us. And I think, after this year, we can all see how important that solidarity is.
So attend your branch meetings, start having conversations with your colleagues, map out your workplaces and get involved. You need to ensure you are having your voices heard on the issues that matter to you. Your union staff cannot contact you if they don’t have your correct address, number, email or workplace so update your details. This is such a crucial time and you need to be in the know with what is happening.
It is also particularly important should our unions leadership send out ballots for industrial action. We need over 50% of people to vote in favour, so that it’s successful. We need as many workers supporting the campaign and prepared to take action, so that we can keep not only our patients safe, but ourselves. Also please make sure that you share your contact details with us today, so that WE are able to keep in contact with you.
Whether you feel strongly about safer staffing, putting an end to privatisation, or being paid a wage that reflects your skills, knowledge and responsibilities, each and every one of you MUST stand up to champion what it is that you want. I cannot win this for you and we will be much stronger together.