NHS staff are leaving the health service for better-paid work in supermarkets, the Unison boss has warned as the largest health union ballots its members on strike action.
Speaking to the House of Commons select committee podcast, Unison chief executive Christina McAnea said that healthcare workers – and other public sector employees – are working in jobs that are draining with no certainty of pay increases to match the rising cost of living.
Unison is currently balloting 350,000 NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – including, nurses, paramedics and cleaners – to vote in favour of striking over a pay dispute.
Ms McAnea said: ‘Tesco have paid their staff two pay increases this year to reflect the fact that there’s a huge cost of living crisis. In fact, most of the big retailers have given their staff two pay increases this year, and that’s how they’re holding on to them. And that’s how Amazon is holding onto their warehouse staff.
‘When you’re in the private sector, you’ve got an element of leverage with the employers. As in if you’re still making profits, please give some to the workforce. There’s an economic argument there.’
She warned that public sector staff ‘rely on the Government to fund them’ and to release funds, with ‘an exodus of staff’ an inevitable outcome if that does not happen.
Data shows there are more than 130,000 FTE vacancies in the NHS in England, with 40,365 nurses in England leaving active service in the year to June 2022.
Unison has called for an above-inflation pay rise in their submission to the NHS pay review body.
Launching its ballot, the union said that ministers have ‘no option but to build upon’ £1,400 pay rise awarded to health workers in England earlier in the summer, if they are to meet new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s claim he wants to strengthen the NHS.
It comes as the Royal College of Nursing this week announced the biggest wave of strikes in its 106-year history following a below-inflation pay offer for staff.
Other major unions, including GMB, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives are also balloting – or are planning to ballot – their members in the healthcare sector.
Last week, NHS England ordered ICBs to take part in strike-action preparation simulation.
Meanwhile, data supplied by Labour to the BBC has revealed that some NHS trusts are paying agencies up to £2,500 for nurses to fill shifts.
The investigation showed that spending on agency staff to plug holes in rotas in England has risen to by 20% last year to £3bn.
Agency pay rates are capped at 55% above the amount a regular employee would receive, but the report found the caps were exceeded for around nine-in-10 shifts for doctors and dentists, and four-in-10 for nurses.