The second anniversary of Labour's coming to power passed just days after Unison members had voted by three to one to ballot on a strike over the millennium weekend in protest at the government's refusal to agree a national pay bonus for staff who work during the holiday.

It was as we predicted last month: staff organisations - or at least their members - are treating the government's meanness with the contempt it deserves. Ministers can no longer rely on automatic goodwill from health workers at this distance from the euphoria which greeted their election - staff think it's time they felt some benefit from the new regime.

Appealing to their 'public service ethos' to cajole them into working for nothing is an unedifying spectacle, particularly from a health secretary who prides himself on the importance of staff welfare.

It is doubly so when it takes place from the same platform as proclamations such as NHS Executive human resources director Hugh Taylor's, that improving NHS staff's quality of working life is crucial to wider policy aims of improving quality of care.

However much the government thinks it will save by this ploy may prove to be a very false economy.