Ensuring equality in pay progression systems

Alice Sorby and Yemisi Osibote

In this blog, Alice Sorby and Yemisi Osibote – staff-side and management side co-chairs of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group (part of the NHS Staff Council) share insights on the importance of partnership working to ensure pay progression equality.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group (EDIG), is a sub-group of the NHS Staff Council. Trade union and management side representatives work in partnership to advise the Staff Council Executive on the Equality Impact Analysis as changes to the Agenda for Change handbook are negotiated.

In April of this year the new pay progression system was published in the handbook. Under Annex 23 (England only) for new and promoted staff from 1 April pay progression will be based on four nationally agreed standards (five for line managers). The aim of a national framework is to ensure consistency and equity, however we know that there are some potential risks locally from an equalities perspective, particularly around disciplinaries. Having a formal disciplinary action live on your record is one of the reasons that pay progression can be withheld.

There is no need to repeat here the wealth of evidence that the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) and numerous related publications have given us. Although there have been improvements, BME staff are still more likely than white staff to enter the formal disciplinary process. Prerana Issar the NHS chief people officer announced this year a focus on reducing the disproportionate ethnicity gap in formal disciplinary processes and the overall rate of unnecessary disciplinary sanctions.

We have to look at the issues of leadership and culture, including a lack of diversity among leaders right across the NHS. Every organisation should be striving to ensure that all staff are treated equally in every aspect of their work life - anything less than this is unacceptable. Trade unions are committed to equality and ensuring that our members are treated fairly and equitably at work, and we want to make sure that leaders are diverse, inclusive and reflective of the workforce.

EDIG will be monitoring the pay progression data but it won’t be until 2021 that new and promoted staff will be having their first pay step meeting. With this in mind, we thought it was a good time to consider these risks and how to ensure staff are not unfairly held back from progressing. Working in partnership with local staff-side and trade union colleagues to ensure policies and procedures are fair, monitored, reviewed and equality impact assessed is a great first step. Equally important is partnership working to improve workplace culture and levels of bullying and harassment. Employers working with trade unions to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of employees benefits everyone. Staff are more likely to feel safe to raise concerns early and issues can be resolved without resorting to formal procedures when it isn’t necessary.

A fair experience for all: Closing the ethnicity gap in rates of disciplinary action across the NHS workforce includes some really helpful practical steps you can take when you are looking at your own WRES outcomes. These measures could include building in a triage stage before cases move to action, making sure that the staff involved such as case managers or investigators are fully trained. They need to ensure that any decision to suspend or exclude a member of staff is not be taken by one person alone, or that there is any conflict of interest. It may also be a good idea to introduce a process to monitor the length of sanctions when disciplinary action is taken as this will impact whether a pay step is affected or not. 

If you are already talking about this at your local Joint Negotiating Committee let us know, we are always keen to hear about and promote good practice. If not, why not get it on the agenda. There is still time to ensure that the new pay progression system is implemented equitably in your trust and there is national recognition of the need to tackle discrimination in the NHS.

For further information visit the NHS Staff Council pay progression resources.


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