Thousands of nurses and midwives braved the autumn weather this morning to take part in strike action over pay today.
NHS members from Unison, Unite, the GMB and the Royal College of Midwives staged a four-hour stoppage between 7am and 11am on Monday as part of nationwide action over pay.
The action follows a series of ballots over recent weeks, in which the majority of voters said they were in favour of taking industrial action, including strikes, and also action short of striking. It will be the first time in its 133 year history that RCM members will have taken strike action.
The stoppages on Monday will be followed by four days of action short of strike action between Tuesday 14 and Friday 17 October when union members will stop working through their breaks and instead take their breaks.
The ballots come in response to the government in England’s decision to reject the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation to increase the pay of all staff in Agenda for Change by 1%.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “This is the first time in 32 years that NHS workers take industrial action over pay. And for many, it will be the first time. Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of workers are out fighting for fair pay and for the NHS.
“The fact that so many unions representing a range of NHS workers are taking action today or preparing to join future actions should send a clear message to the government,” she said.
“The NHS relies on the good will of its workers but we know that a demotivated workforce is bad for patients. The government needs to start negotiating with us and reconsider their pay policy,” she added.
Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Not only have NHS staff faced year-on-year cuts in the relative value of their pay, ministers have turned down the recommendations of the independent pay review body, even though it called for an affordable, below-inflation pay rise.
“NHS staff are always reluctant strikers – there hasn’t been a national strike over pay in the health service since 1982 – and they will do everything they can to protect patients in their care. But morale has hit rock-bottom,” he said.
He added: “Even the Royal College of Midwives, which has have never been on strike, is taking action today”
However, there appeared to be no movement from the government. Interviewed on BBC Breakfast, health secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed he “absolutely will talk to the unions” about pay, but only if they are prepared to reform the system of increments, which he says is “unfair”.
He said NHS managers would have to lay off 4,000 nurses if the government introduced a blanket 1% pay increase plus incremental pay, noting the recruitment drive in response to the Francis report.
“This would put that into reverse and I don’t think that would be right for patients,” he said. “There are a lot of pressures on the NHS but the most important thing here is doing the right thing for patients.”
Survey results released by Unison over the weekend suggested that one in five NHS workers needed more than one job to make ends meet, with some saying they worked up to 26 extra hours a week.
According to the online survey of 3,366 of the union’s members, 54% said they are overdrawn every month and half said they would not survive without a second source of income.
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