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Work life: Further action on pay

28 November, 2014

Work life: Further action on pay


Amy Leversidge Amy Leversidge

Following the success of the RCM’s historic first strike, Amy Leversidge explains why further industrial action is needed to keep up the momentum.


Monday 13 October 2014 will go down in history as the first time RCM members went on strike. We were loud and we made our voices heard, but we need to continue being loud and keep our voices heard. 
Of course, industrial action will always be a last resort for the RCM and it was with a heavy heart that members voted for and took action. We would never ask midwives and MSWs to take action unless it was necessary, but we believe that if we all stand together and say ‘enough’s enough’, we have the best chance of getting a better deal.  
You can see the fantastic photos of RCM members on the picket line on our Facebook page, with some great shots of members smiling and cheering, even though it was pouring with rain. The one thing the photos can’t do, however, is relay the sounds – there was cheering, chanting and car horns beeping. The public are well and truly on our side too, as they can sympathise with the feeling of mounting bills. They can see midwives love their jobs and recognise what a waste it is to have talented midwives leave the NHS because they can no longer afford to work as a midwife. They know what NHS staff are worth.
Of course, the action wouldn’t have been successful had it not been for members who continued to work to maintain essential services. On the day our ballot result was announced, we sent extensive guidance to our workplace reps, who did an outstanding job in implementing it to ensure we maintained a safe service. We shared the guidance with managers and employers and we have proved that NHS staff can mount effective industrial action and maintain safety.
We also took further action for the rest of the week (14 to 18 October). RCM members working in the NHS in England made sure they took all the breaks they were entitled to and only worked overtime if it was agreed that they would be paid for it.
We chose that further action because maternity services are currently being run on goodwill. It is not ‘now and again’ that members work beyond their hours, it is every day. It is not the exception that members work beyond their hours, it is expected. There is a view that because midwifery is a vocation and a caring profession that midwives should just work extra without being paid. But, as many RCM members said on the picket line, ‘goodwill doesn’t pay the bills’.
We asked members to report to us how many hours of overtime they worked during the further action. Members told us that on average they worked an extra three hours. Full-time NHS staff only have to work 13 hours of overtime to earn the equivalent of 1% of their salary – 13 hours extra over a whole year. If RCM members continued to take further action and continued to work three hours extra every week, it would take just over four weeks to earn theequivalent of 1% of their salary. 
The stoppage caused short-term disruption to planned appointments while maintaining services but, most importantly, it highlighted our campaign to the public and showed the level of determination of RCM members to achieve fair pay. Removing goodwill has a financial impact on employers that, if continued, could potentially have a greater impact than just paying the 1% increase. Combining the two forms of action has had a tremendous effect, which surely must make employers and the government listen. 
Our campaign is wider than our industrial action. One of our members, Natalie Carter, has started a petition through change.org to ask for fair pay in the NHS. The response so far has been overwhelming. Please make sure you sign the petition and encourage friends and family to sign it too. 
We are also asking you to write to your MP – your workplace rep should have printed postcards that all you have to do is sign and pop in the post. MPs need to hear from frontline staff about the reasons why this is important, you are one of their constituents and they should listen to you. 
Your workplace rep will also have postcards for MPs for the public, please give these to your friends and family so they can show their support too. Remember, this isn’t just about maternity, this is about the whole NHS and that affects everyone, not just NHS employees, but those who use and depend on the NHS every day. An investment in staff is an investment in care. 
As we go to press, a second week of industrial action is taking place, starting on Monday 24 November. We had a massive impact with our first week of action and we need to keep the momentum going and make sure this second strike is just as good as the first. 
We have continued to work with managers and employers to ensure safety, the same as before. We hope you’ve been able to join the picket line and demonstration; it is so important that we show that we are stronger than ever. We have also asked you to complete your timecard again, please do this so we can keep adding up the goodwill.  
If we stand together and keep campaigning, we have the best chance of achieving fair pay in the NHS. We believe that our industrial action will not just make history, but it will also be our finest hour.
Amy Leversidge
RCM employment relations advisor
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