The first steps towards pay restoration in Scotland

Chris Smith on the opening of the consultative vote on pay for junior doctors in Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Wednesday 2 August 2023
chris smith

Consultative vote now open

After months of negotiations, and nearly a year since the Scottish Junior Doctors’ Committee committed to push for the pay restoration our members deserve, Scottish doctors have reached a point where a concrete first step can be made on the path to achieving our goal. Once again, the power that we derive from our record levels of membership will determine our next steps. SJDC need your verdict by noon on Wednesday 16 August, and have opened a consultative vote on the Scottish Governments improved pay offer.

The vote will open at 9am on Wednesday 2 August, a day that most doctors already have circled on their calendars as “Changeover Day”. This naturally means that new FY1s will be eligible to vote in the process, but that doctors who are becoming consultants and have completed their training by this point are not eligible to vote. It is vitally important that you update your details whatever group you fall into – new doctor, doctor in training, or doctor becoming a consultant.

For new doctors, the change from student to doctor won’t be done automatically (post-graduation the BMA has no way of knowing what your destination is unless you tell us) so it is vital that if you want to vote you sign up now.

For new consultants, if your details aren’t updated, you’ll be left in the voting pool but ineligible to vote. This would compromise the validity of our result and, crucially, if you don’t vote but are in the voting pool then it will artificially depress turnout. Whatever happens we need to show government we are as engaged as ever, we need to show that pay restoration is never leaving our agenda. A high turnout from an educated and involved membership – something that we have achieved in all our votes - gives us our power.

The offer

The offer that we are asking you to vote on for the next 3 weeks is comprised of 3 important parts.

1. Pay uplift

The first is a pay uplift of 12.4% for 2023/24. This will apply to doctors in training and doctors employed in non-training roles. The BMA are clear that pay parity must be maintained for academic doctors with honorary NHS contracts; to make Scotland the place to train and to ensure our NHS is innovative and supports clinical research, we cannot price out some of our best and brightest from pursuing their passions. This will be backpaid to April 2023 if accepted, including to any doctor who has moved across the border or into a consultant post.

2. Three years of inflation-tracked pay uplifts

The second is a commitment to three years of inflation-tracked pay uplifts, ensuring that pay erosion will be consigned to the past for doctors in Scotland. Inflation will be the absolute minimum floor every year, and it will be calculated by giving due regard to both RPI and CPI. In these three years, we must reach a pay award that we are satisfied brings us credibly towards pay restoration. This is written into the agreement in black and white. Our pay erosion currently stands at 28.5%, so this will be no mean feat and will require significant, sustained, likely double-digit pay increases in those 3 years. The Scottish Government know this is what we are coming for, and they know we will be knocking at the door with the backing of thousands of Scotland’s doctors.

3. Contract modernisation

Thirdly, and perhaps the most overlooked part of the offer, is the commitment to modernise our 20 year old contract and replace the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration Body, the so-called independent process that has overseen 15 years of unparalleled wage suppression of NHS doctors. We will enter into these negotiations having given nothing away, but having gained some significant commitments from Scottish Government, including that these dual processes must finish the job of pay restoration. This is our credible way forwards, a pathway laid out in black and white to bring us back to the baseline.

The path to full pay restoration

As somebody that has been fully invested in the movement for full ray restoration in Scotland, it would be completely disingenuous of me to present this offer as full pay restoration, delivered immediately, case closed. This is clearly not a perfect offer: the in-year uplift is not as high as we wanted and is much lower than our opening demands. The Scottish Government refused to link our pay purely to RPI going forwards, despite our warnings that we would never reconsider using that metric to calculate the pay eroded from our salaries. There is the possibility that, though these negotiations were frank and open, this might change in the future. We are prepared that the Scottish Government may try and renege on their commitments or try to get away with increases that do not meet our expectations of credible progress towards pay restoration. Whatever happens, the way forwards will be hard work and will be challenging for us all – and we’ll need to stick together like never before.

Which is why if the Scottish Government don’t make the kind of progress the BMA expects – and by “the BMA” I mean all of us who make up our membership, not just SJDC – then we must be unafraid to follow that path we have charted for the first time ever this year. We must be ready to strike to achieve our goals. We have now demonstrated that doctors in Scotland are not only willing to do that, but that we can organise for it. We will never be second-guessed again.

But to continue to be this force we all need to keep going, we will need continued engagement for a number of years. This is in order to tackle 15 years of pay cuts we need to make consistent progress year on year to win back what was lost.  As much as we may have wished otherwise, this was never going to be a one-off, all-or-nothing dispute. We have learned from successful unions from across our movement that incremental changes must be fought for and banked year after year - a constant struggle to stand up for the workers we represent. The moment we get complacent is the moment the backwards slide starts anew. Our power comes from our membership, I’ve said it so many times in this piece alone, but it is a fact, and it is something we will need to demonstrate time and time again.

So, despite this offer not being perfect, the negotiating team and SJDC also believe that this is the best possible deal at the current time and that it finally and crucially lays out a credible pathway to pay restoration. It does so be securing a commitment to a mutually agreeable path towards pay restoration through yearly negotiation and overhauling the processes that have got us into this NHS-endangering mess. In a wider politico-economic context, it is more than 3 times higher than the public sector pay policy laid out by the Scottish Government, and more than double what has been awarded to consultants and specialists. It is a higher offer than recommended by the redundant DDRB, an offer which is set to be imposed in England (at time of writing; Sunak and Barclay might yet realise the damage their government is causing to our NHS). The offer also secures inflation-linked pay increases for the first time ever in the Scottish public sector: the word unprecedented is overused but this truly is an historic commitment from the Holyrood Government.

This is why the Scottish Junior Doctors Committee unanimously voted to put this offer to our fellow members, with a recommendation that it be accepted. This means that whatever happens next is up to the doctors of Scotland. Throughout this process we have built a tangible force to be reckoned with thanks to hundreds of people putting thousands of hours of engagement into this campaign. Local reps and local work empowered SJDC like never before, and that power is now firmly back in your hands – again - in the shape of our most important vote yet.

The strike ballot was a tool to bring the Scottish Government to the table and to get them to realise the extent and impact of medicine’s degradation through pay erosion, and the extent of our anger. The neutral offer we put to you previously was a tool to break the stalemate and prove to the Scottish Government we would not settle for a solitary uplift like our Agenda for Change colleagues, and to prove that we are serious about the principle and essential outcome of pay restoration. This latest offer is a tool to achieve a solid step on the path to full pay restoration, a tool that we need to wield and a tool that we need to diligently maintain. To build on the progress that this offer represents we need to bank what we’ve achieved and keep preparing for the fights ahead. To put our union in the best position to do that I will be voting yes before the 16 August. I encourage, and hope, that you do too.