UKHSA pushes through pay offer unions rejected, offering £350 'recognition payment'

Pay decision ‘disappointing’ and could lead to workforce shortage, union warns
UKHSA chief exec Jenny Harries said she recognised "how difficult the current economic climate is" for lower-paid staff. Photo: Reuters/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

18 Nov 2022

The UK Health Security Agency has decided to push ahead with a pay offer that was rejected by unions, but is giving its staff a £350 bonus.

UKHSA said a 3% pay offer, which members of the PCS and Prospect unions voted down, was the "best that could be achieved" this year.

Cabinet Office’s pay remit guidance allows civil service employers to make average pay awards of 2% in 2022-23 – rising to 3% where they can successfully argue increase will help with staff retention, productivity or other priorities.

The £350 “recognition payment” for all staff is to reward them for their “extraordinary work in recent months”, the agency said.

The Prospect union called the decision “disappointing” and warned it could lead to a skills shortage at the agency.

Delegated-grade – non-senior –  civil servants at UKHSA will get a rise of “at least 2.5% or £1,000”, with lower grades receiving the highest pay increases.

“We have concluded our pay offer for 2022-2023, operating within our budget of 3%,” minutes from the agency's latest board meeting said.

“The offer was rejected by trade unions but we have concluded – after considerable exploration of potential alternative options – that this is the best that could be achieved operating within our current guidance.”

The pay rises will be implemented for delegated grades in November and senior civil servants in December.

UKHSA chief executive Dame Professor Jenny Harries said: “I am exceptionally proud of our hugely talented workforce and the significant contribution they make to keeping the nation safe.

“We have recognised the outstanding efforts of colleagues as much as we can through the pay award announced whilst keeping within the civil service pay remit guidance and our budget. We particularly recognise how difficult the current economic climate is for our staff on lower incomes and have therefore taken action to ensure that the highest awards go to our lower graded staff.”

UKHSA said it has "explored in detail" options for specialist pay recognition for certain staff groups, such as clinical staff, with an update due at its next advisory board meeting.

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham told CSW: “It is disappointing that UKHSA is imposing this deal which leaves pay lagging significantly behind not only inflation – but also pay level and increases for highly skilled workers in other parts of the economy.

“UKHSA is already struggling to recruit and retain experienced people. As the cost-of-living crisis bites more and more of them will be concluding they may be able to get a better deal elsewhere, leaving the agency with insufficient skills to fulfil its obligations.”

Led by Harries, the former deputy chief medical officer, UKHSA was formed last year from parts of the former Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre and has played a critical role in the government's Covid response.

As of 31 January, management consultants made up 13% of UKHSA’s workforce, while parts of the agency have been struggling to recruit. 

The large number of short and fixed-term roles and secondments at NHS Test and Trace has been putting off job applicants, according to Harries and Department for Health and Social Care permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald.

The agency is also among the 126 departments and public bodies where PCS members have voted to take strike action over low pay, pension concerns and plans to water down redundancy payments. of the 57% of UKHSA members who voted in the ballot, 85% backed industrial action.

PCS is set to announce its plans for strike action tomorrow, having given the government a week's deadline to come up with “concrete” proposals.

Prospect members could soon join in with strike action, with the union currently holding an indicative online ballot of its members over pay, staffing and redundancy terms.

In response to the UKHSA pay decision, Graham warned that its members across the public sector “have had enough” and said the union “will be pursuing all options to get them the pay, respect and the recognition they deserve”.

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