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24.11.14

NHS staff stage second mass strike in as many months over pay

NHS workers, including nurses, midwives, paramedics, radiographers, administrators, cleaners and managers will be manning picket lines today as hundreds of thousands of staff stage a fresh strike in a dispute with the government over pay.

Members of nine unions – Unison, Unite, GMB, Ucatt, Managers in Partnership, the Royal College Of Midwives, the British Association of Occupational Therapists, the Society of Radiographers and Prison Officers Association – walked out this morning for four hours in protest over the government’s decision not to accept a recommended 1% pay rise for all NHS employees.

Richard Evans, chief executive of the Society of Radiographers, said the anger NHS workers feel is “strong”, adding:  “The devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have come to an agreement with their health workers. Why are the administrations in England and Northern Ireland not even capable of meeting with the unions to discuss a creative way forward?”

NHE reported last week that the Welsh government had struck a deal with union leaders. The agreement included a one-off non-consolidated payment of £187 pro rata, a 1% pay uplift from April 2015, and the implementation of the Living Wage for all Agenda for Change staff across all health boards in Wales.

In Scotland the independent pay review body’s recommendations were implemented in full.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said the strike, the second in a month, should “sound alarm bells ringing” in Westminster because of the anger of such dedicated workers.

He added: “The anger is spreading and so is the public support for health workers’ cause.  The strength of feeling is far from fading and the dispute far from going away

“All the government has done so far is threaten workers with job cuts.

“If the secretary of state seriously thinks staff are the NHS’ best asset then he needs to treat them fairly. We are only asking for decent pay for the hard working people the government say they care so much about.”

Prentis continued: “NHS workers in Scotland and Wales will all be getting a 1% pay rise and the Living Wage. So why is the secretary of state so determined to penalise workers in England?”

During the last strike Jeremy Hunt said that agreeing to the union’s demands would lead to 14,000 frontline jobs being cut over two years.

"The pay bill for a hospital is about 75% of their total costs. If you impose on them a pay bill they can't afford then they have to lay off staff," he said.

Last month’s strike by just six of the unions walking out today caused disruption across the country. Military personnel had to be drafted in to drive ambulances in London, in the West Midlands ambulances were only responding to life-threatening calls, while in hospitals clinics had to be postponed, antenatal classes were cancelled and operations had to be called off due to a lack of staff.

Today’s strike will be followed by six days of the unions working-to-rule, where members do not do any unpaid overtime and insist on taking their rest breaks. Radiographers will also work to guidance regarding appointment times, which recommend all ultrasound examinations should take a minimum of 20 minutes.

For the action short of a strike the nine unions are expected to be joined by two more, the Home Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association and British Dietetic Association.

A poll earlier this month commissioned by the Royal College of Midwives and carried out by ComRes found that 82% of the public believe that NHS staff should receive the 1% pay rise recommended by the independent pay review body.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of RCM, said: “I was overwhelmed by the response of our members to the previous industrial action and I urge them to respond equally next week.  I am also very heartened to see that public support for a 1% award for NHS staff has remained high since that industrial action, so we know the public are behind us.

“This is not about our members demanding huge banker-sized bonuses, or asking for the similarly large bonuses and pay increases given to many senior managers in the NHS. It is about our members having to fight just to get the very modest 1% pay award recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body. It is also an award which still lags way behind the rising cost of living and will see our members earning the same in 2016 as they did in 2013.

“As before in every area our local representatives have worked with hospitals to ensure safe services will be available to women in need of urgent care, such as those in labour. Our dispute is not with the women for whom midwives care, it is with employers telling midwives they are not worth a 1% pay rise.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset and we want to make the current pay system fairer.

“We have taken tough decisions to increase the NHS budget but we can’t afford a consolidated pay rise in addition to increments without risking 10,000 frontline jobs.”

(Image: c. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

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