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Work life: Taking industrial action

8 September, 2014

Work life: Taking industrial action

Amy Leversidge looks at what industrial action would mean for RCM members.

The RCM has never asked its members to vote for industrial action before. This will be the first time in history that the decision to ballot members has been made and we would not ask if we did not believe it was absolutely necessary. We are asking now because this is the time to say ‘enough’s enough’.

This is a fundamental attack on your pay and we have to make a stand. We believe that if midwives and MSWs stand together and vote ‘yes’, we have the best chance of getting a fair deal for NHS staff. But, what does voting for and taking industrial action mean for RCM members? The dispute is with individual employers in the NHS, but it is important to understand the background.

Industrial action involves members of a trade union working together to achieve a goal; in this case we are trying to achieve a fair pay deal for midwives and MSWs. You can only take part in industrial action if you are a member of a trade union and your trade union has balloted you for industrial action and achieved a ‘yes’ vote in that ballot. There are two types of industrial action, strike and action short of a strike.

We are proposing that we start our action with a short stoppage; we are not proposing a full day strike. We are also proposing that we then take action short of a strike, which will highlight the good will that you give to the NHS every day – for example, all the times you work unpaid overtime and miss your breaks. This will be kept under review. We are asking you to vote ‘yes’ to both strike action and action short of a strike, because this will enable us to take the forms of action we have highlighted.

Action short of a strike can be just as disruptive to your employer as a strike, so just as effective, and we have chosen action that will cause disorder to your employer but not disturb women and their babies.

It is not against the NMC code of conduct for midwives to take industrial action. The NMC put out a statement, which says: ‘We recognise that many nurses and midwives are members of trade unions and respect their democratic right to express support for their trade unions and to lobby on a wide range of issues. This does of course include their right to support and take part in strike action… The code does not prohibit nurses and midwives from taking part in lawful industrial action.’

Our workplace representatives (WPRs) will work with managers to ensure there is cover during the four-hour stoppage. Emergencies will be covered and no women or babies will be left on their own.

The cover during the stoppage is intended to be similar to the cover on a bank holiday, so our action will not put women or babies at risk.

However, we believe that the treatment of NHS staff will affect care because staff that are demoralised cannot deliver the quality of care that NHS users, including women and babies, deserve. We believe that investing in staff is an investment in better care.

We have developed flyers for the public, so we can explain to them why we are taking action and reassure them that they will still be cared for. We will be asking mothers and fathers to support midwives and MSWs and to join in the campaign to ask for fair pay for NHS staff.

Voting ‘yes’ will send a strong message that midwives and MSWs deserve fair pay

We will be balloting all members who are currently employed in the NHS in England under Agenda for Change terms and conditions. This is because legally we can only ballot members who will be called to take part in the action.

The ballot papers will be sent to you in the post by 8 September. The ballot will close on 29 September at midday. To vote in the ballot you have to send your ballot paper back to us by post, the envelope is prepaid, so you don’t need to put a stamp on it. We need to receive the ballot paper by 29 September, so we recommend putting your paper in the post as soon as possible, but no later than 26 September.

There will be two questions on the ballot paper, one about strike action and one about action short of a strike. You need to place a cross in either the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box for each question (and we are recommending that you vote ‘yes’ to both questions). Please do not mark the ballot paper anywhere else because this will mean it does not count.

The RCM is recommending that you vote ‘yes’ to both strike and action short of a strike, because we believe that taking action is our only chance to change the government’s mind and stop them making fundamental changes to the pay structure in the future, for example removing increments and bringing in performance-related pay. We believe that if we stand together, we can get a better deal for NHS staff.

Please make sure you use your vote. We did not take the decision to ballot you lightly and we understand that it won’t be easy for you to vote for industrial action. We have never asked you to vote for industrial action before and we wouldn’t ask unless we believed it was necessary. Voting ‘yes’ will send a strong message that midwives and MSWs deserve fair pay and investing in staff is an investment in better care.

You can find out more by visiting rcm.org.uk and reading the FAQs on the pay page; if you have any questions, please ask your WPR; attend your local meeting or email: paycampaign@rcm.org.uk When you have voted, tweet us @MidwivesRCM and tell us why you voted with the hashtags #whyIvoted and #nhspay or tell us your personal stories and why fair pay is important to you by emailing: paycampaign@rcm.org.uk

Amy Leversidge
RCM employment relations advisor

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