Midwives and Maternity Support Workers (MSWs) ended 2023 with no resolution to the long running pay dispute in Northern Ireland. There was some hope that the Executive would be restored and that a resolution could be found, unfortunately this did not happen. Following industrial action in September and still no pay award for RCM members in late December the RCM Board took the decision to call strike action once again, saying it was “unacceptable that midwives and MSWs in the HSC have been left in limbo”.
With no recent pay award your pay is falling further behind the rest of the UK. Currently midwives and MSWs in Northern Ireland are already paid less than their counterparts in England and Wales which the RCM says is ‘grossly unfair’ and continues to campaign to change.
On January 18, midwives and maternity support workers joined by RCM staff took industrial action for the second time in less than six months. The RCM has thanked each and every member who joined in the strike to have their voice heard. The support on the picket lines was also so appreciated and really kept us going on the coldest of days.
When RCM members walked out, they were joined by thousands of other health and public sector workers. It’s estimated 140,000 people across Northern Ireland were involved in the strike. The day of action was an opportunity for RCM member to voice their anger and frustration that money identified to address pay for public health workers, has not been released by the government.
Whilst we acknowledge that the industrial action taken on the 18 January has not resolved the pay dispute, it has shown the commitment of workers to fight for fair pay and better working conditions. We want to reassure members that the RCM is committed to working collaboratively with the other health sector unions, to find a solution that addresses our lack of a decent fair pay award.
Our next steps now are to continue to collaborate with our public health unions and if necessary, consider further action in order to pursue a fair and equitable pay award.
Industrial action involves members of a trade union working together to achieve a goal, in this case we are trying to achieve a decent inflation proof pay deal for midwives and maternity support workers. 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. A strike is the complete withdrawal of labour from the workplace for a period of time, normally a day or two or even half a day, but this can be longer depending on the dispute. Action short of a strike can come in many forms but it often involves working strictly to the terms of your contract of employment. This is sometimes called “working to rule”. This can include taking all your contractual breaks and/or starting/finishing your shifts strictly on time and/or refusing to undertake paid or unpaid overtime.
The action short of strike we are asking RCM members to take is to keep a record of all the extra hours that they work beyond contracted hours and submit claims for overtime payments at the rates provided for in the Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service handbook.
RCM members will not be refusing to work overtime but showing that they should be paid for that overtime. Members should claim overtime from employers using the normal local mechanism for doing so.
As part of the campaign, we also want to know how many hours overtime RCM
members work – so we are asking members to complete an RCM timesheet recording all the extra hours worked. This form can be downloaded from the RCM pay hub (www.rcm.org.uk/pay-hub) or you can contact Team RCM Northern Ireland. We want members to send the timesheets back to us at [email protected] or your RCM workplace reps can collect them from members and send back to us in a bundle. This can be really effective because it highlights the goodwill that midwives and MSWs give to the HSC every day. It will show that the HSC desperately needs to address the staffing crisis and that a decent pay award and urgent retention package is key to doing this.
Yes, midwives and MSWs who are RCM members and are employed in the HSC in Northern Ireland under Agenda for Change terms and conditions, can take part in our industrial action.
Yes, you can take part in the industrial action. However, if you do not normally work on a day that strike action is called, you are unable formally to withdraw your labour. But you can support your colleagues locally by joining them on a demonstration or any other activities planned on the day.
Please note you are only allowed to join a picket line that is outside your own workplace.
The RCM can and will only call its own members to take part in industrial action. Please encourage your colleagues to join the RCM as the bigger we are the stronger our voice is.
If you are off sick prior to and on the day of action, you retain your right to statutory sick pay during the strike action. If you report sick on the day, your employer may make a judgement as to whether you are off sick or on strike. For the purpose of future sick pay and annual leave after the strike, average earning figures would reflect the loss of earnings for the day of action.
Employers may also tighten the rules in absence reporting and require a fit note from day 1 of absence for any absence that commences on a strike day. Please refer to your local policies for further information.
You should only report sick for work on a strike day if you are genuinely sick. Sick leave should not be used to secure pay for industrial action. If you attend picket lines or demonstrations after reporting sick for work, your employer may deduce that you were not genuinely sick and were instead on strike.
When strike action begins during your annual leave, the employer should treat you as being on annual leave. When a date is known for strike action, some employers may decide to refuse new annual leave requests on service delivery grounds or rescind annual leave already granted on the same grounds. This would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. If your annual leave is cancelled and you do not believe that this decision is fair, please contact your workplace rep for further advice.
Unfortunately, members that are solely agency midwives will be unable to participate in the industrial action. If you work as an agency midwife and are also employed in an HSC Northern Irish Health Trust under Agenda for Change terms and conditions, you will be able to participate.
Please check your bank contract to make sure it is with an HSC employer in Northern Ireland on Agenda for Change terms and conditions and not an internal pay or bank system that differs from the HSC terms and conditions.
The rules governing industrial action require us to notify employers of where we are calling action and the workplaces that are being called to take action. This therefore presents challenges when members are seconded out of their trust. The legal position of members who are seconded to work in another trust is not clear cut. Therefore, we would advise RCM members who are working on secondment not to take part in industrial action. This advice applies to action called at your substantive employer or your seconded employer where one is taking action and the other is not. If action is called in both your substantive trust and your seconded trust, then you can take part in the action.
It is the responsibility of individual employers to consider emergency cover in preparation for any potential industrial action and to discuss this with trade unions at local level. As such, we would expect the main discussions to take place between local managers and your RCM stewards.
We cannot issue definitive guidance on what is and what is not appropriate in each service as this will vary from service to service. However, we recognise how important this issue is for members and the profession. As a starting point we would advise you to consider those services provided and the number of staff who would normally work on bank holidays.
However, every local service is different, and decisions will be dependent on local circumstances.
As some RCM members will be working during the stoppage to cover essential services, we have produced stickers to wear to indicate support for the campaign and that they are working to provide care to women and babies.
If you have chosen not to take part in the RCM strike action, or if another trade union is taking strike action, you should not undertake voluntary bank or overtime to cover the work of striking colleagues. The NMC Code requires that you only carry out any duties which you have the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out safely and effectively.
While it is every member’s choice as to whether they take action, RCM members should all be aware that the sacrifices made by striking colleagues could bring about change that will benefit everyone. Disruption is one of the strategic aims of strike action – sending a strong message to employers and the government with the withdrawal of labour highlighting the importance of the valuable work that members do.
While there may be a provision within your contract stating that you can be asked to work at a different location to your normal place of work within your employer, most will not provide for staff to be asked to work at a different trust or employer.
No, you will lose pay for the hours where you are not at work. Pay is not normally deducted for action short of a strike.
Your employer could choose to reduce your wages for the time you have taken part in the stoppage. Pay is not normally deducted for action short of a strike. There will be some members who will continue to work during the stoppage to provide essential services and we wouldn’t expect an employer to reduce their wages for the time of the stoppage. This could mean that some staff will have their pay affected and others won’t. However, under the government and employer’s current plans everyone’s pay will be affected for years to come, and you need an inflation proof pay rise, to help cope with the current cost of living crisis.
No. The RCM does not have a strike fund, nor does it have the resources to reimburse members on strike for lost pay. While there will inevitably be some short-term financial loss to members who take strike action, we hope that the campaign will bring about improvements in the pay award that will be of greater long-term benefit to everyone, although this cannot be guaranteed.
Shift workers who are scheduled to work a shift that spans a non-strike day, and a strike day can still take part in the action by leaving work at the start of the strike day. It is the RCM’s position that deductions should be made only for the hours falling on the strike day that the worker does not work, and payment should continue to be made for the hours they do work in the shift.
Absence on a day of strike action will not count towards pensionable service. There will be a very small reduction in the amount paid into your pension. If you are still in the final-salary scheme and this is one of the years being counted towards your final pension, then there will be a small reduction.
If you are in the Career Average Revalued Earnings (Care) pension scheme, then there will be a small reduction for that year. Exemptions should be given to members who would suffer long-term financial loss because of taking strike action. This includes pregnant members, members whose state benefits would be affected and members in their last year of pensionable service.
It is possible that your maternity pay could be slightly reduced due to not being paid while on strike if the strike falls in the reference period used for the calculation of maternity pay. Also, days of strike action do not count towards the qualifying periods for maternity pay and adoption pay. Your employer will be able to confirm whether and how this could affect you.
Although a strike is technically a breach of contract of employment, it does not break continuous service if the worker returns to work after the strike ends. However, days of strike action do not count towards any relevant qualifying periods, such as the 26-week qualifying period for maternity pay.
Taking strike action is not a decision our members take lightly, and we realise that members may be concerned about any potential repercussions through taking this action. We will support members when taking part in lawful strike action.
If you do experience any difficulties at work in respect of taking part in any strike action, please contact your steward, or national officer immediately.
Regardless of how you or your colleagues voted, the law protects members from dismissal when taking part in lawful strike action, making it highly unlikely anyone taking part in lawful industrial action will be dismissed. There is protection from dismissal when:
i. the dismissal is within 12 weeks of the action starting
ii. it is after 12 weeks but the employee ceased the action within the 12-week period
iii. the employer failed to take reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute
Bank staff who are employed in the HSC under Agenda for Change terms and conditions and are RCM members who have been afforded the opportunity to take part in the ballot, are protected from unfair dismissal in the same way as any other employee taking part.
Trade union members supporting colleagues taking industrial action can do so but are limited in how they can participate. Advice can be provided by your workplace reps.
Trade union members who have not got a mandate for industrial action should report for work as normal having advised their employer/manager that they will not accept any variation to their contracted duties and/or undertake the timetabled or other responsibilities of those engaged in action. Workplace reps should inform the manager of this on behalf of their members.
Any requested work should be within their scope of practice and professional competence. Members are advised to adhere to their code of conduct and registration requirements at all times. No-one should put their professional registration at risk at any time during industrial action.
Managers having been notified of the number participating in the strike action by the union involved in their department/hospital, will make a judgement about services. The workplace rep will need to confirm that the manager/employer has undertaken a risk assessment based on the potential impact on the department/hospital of the absence of staff who will be involved in action.
It is for the union taking action to agree with the employer the derogations (exemptions) to any action being taken that will ensure life and limb cover is provided.
Trade unions taking action are likely to establish an official picket line. If RCM members refuse to cross the picket line to attend work, then they could face disciplinary proceedings or salary deductions.
Offering moral support is always welcome. If you are able to visit members on a picket line, your support will be warmly received – along with anything practical such as food or drink. You should not join the official picket line, but you can take part a nearby demonstration in support of those taking action.
You can also help to spread the word on social media or through word of mouth with friends, family, and other colleagues or by writing to your MPs. There is more on this further down the page.
There is no legal right to picket as such, but attendance for the purpose of peaceful picketing has long been recognised as a lawful activity. However, the law imposes certain conditions on picketing with which trade unions are required to comply. These will be covered in the following guidance.
The only purposes of picketing declared lawful are:
- peacefully obtaining and communicating information
- peacefully persuading a person not to work
In no circumstances does a picket have power to require other people to stop, or to compel them to listen or to do what the picket asks them to do. A person who decides to cross a picket line must be allowed to do so. It is unlawful for a union to discipline a member for crossing a picket line.
Peaceful picketing should not give rise to any problems in law, but it should be remembered that the union and its pickets are not protected from legal action if the engage in such activities as:
- blocking entrances to premises or physically barring the passage of people or vehicles
- violent, disorderly, or unruly behaviour
- using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour (including terms
- like 'scab')
- damaging property
- trespassing on private property
Pickets should be workers employed by the employer the union is in dispute with and at or near their normal place of work. Although the RCM’s Trade Union Officials are also allowed to join picket lines.
The law does actually not impose a specific limit on the number of people who may picket at any one workplace. Although the police have considerable discretionary powers to limit the number of pickets where they have reasonable grounds that a breach of the peace is likely to occur. The Department for the Economy’s Code of Practice on Picketing, which is in itself not legally enforceable but which can be taken into account in legal proceedings, suggests that in general the number of pickets at any workplace entrance or exit should not exceed six.
Pickets should also take care not to prevent or block the supply of essential equipment and services and should make sure they don’t block emergency vehicles from entering or exiting the workplace.
A picket organiser is an experienced person, preferably a trade union official who represents those picketing. They should always be in charge of the picket line. They should have a letter of authority from their union which they can show to the police officers or to the people who want to cross the picket line. Even when they are not on the picket line themselves, they should be available to give the pickets advice if a problem arises.
The picket organiser should familiarise themselves with the code of practice that is linked above, so they can advise others what peaceful picketing means in practice. They must also be present on the picket line or be readily contactable and able to attend at short notice. In practice this means being on a picket line or if supervising multiple picket lines on site having a mobile phone so they can be contacted to attend if needed.
Any organiser of pickets should maintain close contact with the police. Advance consultation with the police is always in the best interests of all concerned. In particular the organiser and the pickets should seek directions from the police on the number of people who should be present on the picket line at any one time and on where they should stand in order to avoid obstructing the highway.
All pickets should wear armbands or tabards identifying them as such. The picket organiser should also wear something that identifies themselves as the organiser.
Effective picketing depends on good planning. RCM Team Northern Ireland will be available to offer advice and support. Please ensure that you have sufficient pickets to cover all main entrances and that you are on site early enough to cover people coming to work / starting shifts. Pickets may want to get together in advance to discuss their plan of action.
Pickets should be visible and active and display RCM flags and signs and make sure that they can be seen by both workers and passers-by. Pickets should focus on peacefully persuading RCM members not to cross the picket line, but all those approaching entrances should be spoken to about the reasons for the action and asked for their expressions of support. Some members will need go into workplaces to provide cover during the stoppage, they should be allowed to do so. Pickets may have very little time to get their message across, so it helps to have a script in mind. Avoid getting involved in long discussions with individuals if that means that others pass by without being approached. Be polite at all times. You will receive a negative and occasionally aggressive reaction from some – do not rise to the bait, just walk away, and turn your attention to the next person. Pickets should not enter the premises that they are picketing while on strike.
Picketing is a good opportunity for publicising the RCM’s campaign to deliver a decent deal. Our comms team will communicate with the media, but pickets should be prepared for photos or interviews on the day.
Your own employer will have rules about talking to the Press so you should make sure you understand your employer’s rules before you speak to the Press. If you are not sure you can speak to your Workplace Representative or you can ask the journalist to call the RCM’s press office on 0300 303 0444.
You should check locally for the rules on whether you can wear your uniform on the picket line or demonstration and ensure you comply with any local hygiene guidelines.
You can get extremely cold on picket lines, so please wear lots of layers and warm and waterproof clothing. Remember you shouldn’t be on site when you are on strike so make sure you have flasks or access to hot drinks.
As a student you are not able to take part in the industrial action, the laws about industrial action are very strict and we were only allowed to ballot members who are employed by an employer we are in dispute with. As you have not been balloted you will not be able to take part in the industrial action. Therefore, you should not join the picket line and should work the shifts you are due to work. You should do nothing to undermine the industrial action of RCM members for example working beyond the role of a student. However, if you are not due to work that day you may join a demonstration off the hospital grounds (but not the official picket line).
University staff may be members of the RCM, but the UCU is the recognised union in universities. The ballot called by the RCM does not allow us to call on lecturers to take part in industrial action.
Your lectures and seminars taught by university staff will not be affected by RCM member strikes, but we would encourage you to check details with staff at your university, especially if they had planned to visit you on placement.
RCM student members who are also directly employed by an HSC employer in Northern Ireland on Agenda for Change terms and conditions can take strike action. This may include bank contracts. However, please check your bank contract to ensure it is with an HSC employer on Agenda for Change terms and conditions and not an internal pay or bank system that differs from the HSC terms and conditions. If your employer is not an HSC Northern Ireland Agenda for change employer, you will not be able to take strike action.
We recommend you minimise any impact on your placement and campus-based taught sessions by attending as expected. You may want to show solidarity with striking members by visiting an off-site demonstration outside your clinical hours or other taught sessions.
You can also show solidarity with members on strike by sharing their stories and images on social media to promote visibility of action. If you do, please ask for the permission of those involved, include the hashtag #DeliveraDecentDeal
You can also show support by writing to your MP to explain why you support this action and raise awareness by discussing the reasons behind the action with family, friends, and colleagues.
Backing better pay for midwives and MSWs in the NHS strengthens the case for the value of midwifery and helps to ensure you are entering a sustainable workforce where you can continue to provide safe and quality care to women and parents.
Other ways to get involved
At the time of writing, the Northern Ireland Assembly was not functioning and there was no Northern Ireland Executive, which makes the job of influencing politicians about pay, harder than it could be.
We set out below some steps to take, but in short, we want you to contact both your MP at Westminster and your MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although, at the time of writing, the Assembly is not sitting, you still have MLAs in post and they can still take action to support health workers.
To write to your constituency MP, you can confirm who they are using https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP, and you can find your MLAs at http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/mlas/search.aspx. You will also find their contact details there.
It is most effective if you email or write to them setting out how you are being affected personally. Are you struggling to pay your utility bills, to pay for the weekly food shop, to keep running your car that gets you to work? Tell them about the reality of what no decent pay rise means for you and your family. Tell them about the impact on your work of any staff shortages, and how fixing these is made harder by the lack of a decent pay rise.
If there is no devolved government in Northern Ireland, ask them (both your MP and your MLAs) to write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the need to sort this out. This will help put pressure on the UK Government to resolve the impasse over the lack of a functioning Assembly. This will also show the parties in Northern Ireland, the impact, the lack of a functioning Assembly and Executive has on the everyday lives of our members.
If devolved government is restored, ask them to write to the Northern Ireland Health Minister about the need for better pay for health service staff in Northern Ireland.
You should still write to your MP even if they do not take their seat at Westminster because they still operate constituency services for local residents.
The more people who contact their politicians – and remember, friends and family can write too – the more effective this will be. Good luck with it!
- Like and share RCM information on social media - RCM branch Facebook page and Twitter @RcmNi
- Use the hashtag #DeliverADecentDeal on social media to help get our messages out there
Information for service users and members of the public
Members of the public and the parents and families you care for can also support midwives, maternity support workers and other HSC staff and say Enough is enough! Deliver a decent pay deal for HSC staff!
RCM members will be taking industrial action as a protest against the imposition of a below-inflation pay award. Midwives and MSWs have experienced more than a decade of pay restraint, so much so that the average midwife is now £7,000 worse off in real terms than was the case in 2010. At the same time our members, like many of the women and families that they care for, are struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising bills and soaring inflation. As a result, many midwives and MSWs have reluctantly decided to leave the HSC, at a time when more staff than ever are needed to ensure the safety and quality of maternity care.
Please be reassured that the safety of women and babies will always come first with midwives and MSWs. Our members are caring people; it is what motivates them to work long hours, often staying late and missing their breaks in already overstretched maternity services. Midwives and MSWs are making a stand because enough is enough.
This action has been designed to ensure that it has no impact on women about to give birth. Midwives and MSWs will be there as usual, as they will be in the hours and days after birth, to support and care for women and babies. Our dispute is with the Government and HSC employers, not with the women and families who our members are there to care for.
All midwives, MSWs and other staff are asking for is a decent pay deal. Recent opinion polling has shown that the public support HSC staff taking industrial action, while also calling for more investment in HSC services.
Members of the public can show their support by:
- Tweeting your support for midwives and MSWs with the hashtag #DeliverADecentDeal
- Write to your MPs asking them to support our campaign for a decent pay deal – you can find their details at https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
- Follow our Twitter @RcmNi