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This week at The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress, the results of the poll regarding industrial action were revealed. We look at what must happen next for strike action to become a reality for nurses.
18th May 2017
By Ruth Underdown
2017 – Could it be the year that nurses finally decide to go out on strike? Among the toxic mix of Brexit, NHS staffing pressures, government cuts, a 1% pay rise (which has, year on year, meant a real terms pay cut of 14%), and the backdrop of a general election, there has never been such a strength of feeling amongst my nursing colleagues.
The tension is palpable. With every soundbite, headline and policy released, the anger directed towards the Health Secretary and Conservative government appears to grow.
The RCN congress was held in Liverpool from the 13th-17th of May, where the leaders from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party both gave keynote speeches. But where was Theresa May? Where was Jeremy Hunt? The anger at their refusal to engage with the nursing community may well have been a final nail in the coffin of the relationship between nurses and the Conservative Party.
The RCN poll that ran for the 3 weeks prior to Congress, which ended on the 7th of May, was to assess the appetite for industrial action from the nursing community – specifically over the paltry 1% pay rise. Out of 435,000 members, only 52,000 responded. That is just under 12% of the membership. From those who responded, 78% were in favour of strike action and 91% were in favour of industrial action short of strike action: www.rcn.org.uk.
Unfortunately, because of the small percentage of participants in the poll, a formal ballot cannot be called.
The Trade Union Act (2016) has moved the goalposts when it comes to industrial action. It is no longer a case of balloting members and going out on strike. The new Act makes it harder for workers to exercise their right to withdraw labour, which, to an extent, works in favour of the employer.
‘The Trade Union Act will ensure industrial action only ever goes ahead when there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50%.
In important public services, including in the health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors, an additional threshold of 40% of support to take industrial action from all eligible members must be met for action to be legal.’ www.gov.uk.
The RCN is therefore calling for a ‘Summer of action’ to increase awareness and support for taking further action.
So what happens next? The RCN is currently seeking members to become Pay Champions who will be tasked with raising awareness of the intention to take industrial action. The plan will be to engage more members when it comes to getting a mandate for a formal ballot. To volunteer, follow this link: www.rcn.org.uk.
If anything is going to change, then nurses need to stand together and do something none of us ever dreamed we’d have to. However, we’re in unprecedented times with so many of us leaving the profession. The current policies are failing the patients and those of us who care for them – it’s time to stand up and be counted.
Read More: Strike Action: A Road Less Travelled
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