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01.10.14

RCM votes to strike for the first time in its history

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has voted to strike for the first time in its history, as part of the concerted industrial action by NHS unions over the government’s rejection of a recommended 1% pay rise for staff.

Midwives will join Unison, whose 300,000 healthcare members were the first to vote in favour of the action, and Unite the Union, whose own 100,000 NHS staff backed the strike last week.

A total of 82% of RCM members voted for the strike, while 94% said they would take part in action short of a strike, on a turnout of 49%.

Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive, said: “This is a resounding yes from our members. It could not send a clearer signal about the level of discontent on this issue to those denying them a very modest 1% pay increase.

“Our members have suffered three years of pay restraint and face the prospect that their pay in 2016 will only be 1% higher than it was in 2010.

“The recommendations from all public sector pay review bodies have been followed except those for health workers. This is not acceptable.”

In England, 62% of Unite members approved of strike action, while in Northern Ireland 78% voted in favour.

The unions have coordinated their strike action, with a four-hour walkout scheduled for the morning of 13 October. Members of Unite and Unison will also take action short of a strike for the following four days, by refusing to work unpaid overtime and taking meal breaks.

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Our members have given a resounding rejection to Cameron and his government who vetoed the one per cent pay rise, as recommended by the independent Pay Review Body (PRB). This meant that 600,000 NHS employees received no cost of living pay rise in April.

“The calibrated industrial action is designed to achieve three objectives;  to get the 1% rise paid to all 1.3 million NHS staff; respect future PRB recommendations; and obtain the ‘living wage’ to the 40,000 NHS staff being currently paid below that level.”

The Department of Health said it is disappointed about the planned industrial action. A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know they are working extremely hard. This is why despite tough financial times, we've protected the NHS budget and now have 13,500 more clinical staff than in 2010. We want to protect these increases and cannot afford incremental pay increases – which disproportionately reward the highest earners – on top of a general pay rise without risking frontline NHS jobs.”

At the Conservative Party Conference this week, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude condemned the current rules around trade union strike ballots and reiterated that, if re-elected in 2015, a Conservative government “will legislate to outlaw strikes where less than half the eligible members have voted” and “end the nonsense of strikes being called on the basis of a strike ballot that can be months or years old”.

If such a law were passed, none of the unions who plan to strike on 13 October would have achieved a high enough turn out to legally take action.

Last week our sister publication, Public Sector Executive, reported that in addition to NHS staff, public sector workers and council workers will also take industrial action, hitting the government with 72 hours of public sector strikes on 13, 14 and 15 October.

(Image: Unite ambulance workers strike outside Yorkshire Ambulance Service Leeds office on 2 April 2013. c. Lynne Cameron/PA Wire)

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