Continuing to campaign for a decent deal and tackling the workforce crisis

By Alice Sorby, Director Employment Relations, RCM on 11 January 2023 Maternity Services Midwifery Workforce MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Government Pay and Agenda For Change

We are already a couple of weeks into 2023, and front and centre of my mind - and everyone else’s at the RCM - is continuing the campaign for decent pay and tackling the workforce crisis in the NHS. I know there is lots of frustration that the huge hurdles the Government set for us to clear mean we aren’t able to carry out your wishes and take industrial action in England. Believe me, I share that frustration too.

Earlier this week, with the other NHS trade unions, I met with the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care in England, Steve Barclay. While it was constructive to be in the room talking about pay (finally), it did not result in an offer or indeed anything tangible for us to take away. So the campaign continues and we will keep pressing for proper negotiations and fair pay.

Because each of the nations are at different points, with different options around pay, I’m going to focus this blog on what is going on in England. We’ll pick up what’s happening in Wales, where we met the turnout threshold, and in Scotland, where a new pay award was imposed just before Christmas, in separate blogs.

We remain in dispute in England which means that our focus is to seek an improved pay offer for the 2022/23 pay round. Plans are under way for action that you can take as part of the campaign, including keeping up the pressure on politicians. We want policy makers to understand what it’s like to be a midwife or an MSW right now, including the extra hours you work and what staffing levels are like in your workplaces.

You may also be aware that, despite already having some of the most anti trade union legislation in Europe, the Government is looking to further restrict the fundamental right of workers to take strike action. That’s why we will be taking part in the upcoming TUC campaign to protect the right to strike, including the day of action on 1 February.

To further complicate what is already a confusing picture, the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) has already stated taking evidence for the 2023 pay award, due on 1 April this year. We have taken the decision not to submit joint evidence as part of the collective NHS trade unions and today we have published a statement explaining why. We don’t believe that a lengthy pay review body process can deliver what is needed right now, and that is a deal that resolves our current dispute. We want to get round the table with the Government and employers to negotiate. Instead of submitting joint evidence we have instead published the case for investment in NHS pay in a publicly available document which you can find here.

The RCM however will be submitting some evidence to the PRB this year. This is not because we think this process is working: last year’s recommendation was a pay cut in real terms and did not address the retention crisis in maternity services. The six-month delay from our evidence submission in January 2022 to the Government’s announcement in July that it would accept the recommendation meant that once again the pay award was late. This only added to how undervalued midwives and MSWs feel. What we want is direct negotiations to resolve our dispute over this year’s pay round but we also want to ensure we are making the case for midwives and MSWs everywhere we can.