Nurses have voted overwhelmingly to support a ballot for strike action in protest at below-inflation pay rises, the Royal College of Nursing has announced. Four out of five members of the RCN who took part in the consultative vote backed a walkout, while nine out of 10 favoured industrial action short of a strike.
The large majorities reflect growing dissatisfaction within the nursing profession over wages. More than 50,000 of the RCN’S 270,000 members took part in the ballot. The union’s annual conference in Liverpool is discussing its next move. A further ballot would have to be held before any industrial action is taken.
The RCN has warned that low pay is partly responsible for tens of thousands of unfilled posts. Nurses say they have experienced a 14% pay cut in real terms since 2010 because of the government’s cap on public sector pay.
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A formal public sector pay cap of 1% was introduced in 2015. The RCN’s general secretary, Janet Davies, has warned that years of pay cuts have left nurses struggling to make ends meet.
There have been reports of staff applying for payday loans and of resorting to food banks to supplement their diminishing incomes.
The last campaign for strike action over NHS pay was in 2014; some nurses took part but the RCN did not participate.
Commenting on the ballot result, Jon Skewes, the Royal College of Midwives’ director of policy, employment relations and communications, said: “NHS staff have now seen seven years of pay restraint and with at least another three years on the horizon. Continuing pay restraint is a disastrous, unsustainable policy for maternity services and the NHS. We are working with other NHS trade unions to break the government’s policy of pay restraint.
“The NHS is reliant on midwives’, maternity support workers’ and all other NHS staff’s goodwill and we want the government to recognise that. We want to use the opportunity of the general election to influence the government to address the staffing crisis in the NHS and work to retain existing NHS staff in the service.”
A survey by the Health Foundation last month found that England could face a shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020, and almost half of all nurses believe that staffing levels are already dangerously stretched. One in nine positions is vacant, according to analysis by the RCN.
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Defending pay levels before the ballot, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The dedication and sheer hard work of our nurses is crucial to delivering world-class patient care — that’s why the NHS offers flexible working, training and development opportunities, competitive pay and an excellent pension scheme.
“As is usual practice, the government accepted independent recommendations about this year’s pay uplift.
“Ensuring pay is affordable helps protect jobs – there are an extra 12,100 nurses on our wards since 2010 – which means frontline NHS services are protected at a time of rising demand.”
Commenting on NHS nurses pay last month, a Conservative party spokesman said: “Investment in our NHS, in additional staff and indeed in their overall pay is founded on the strong economy only Theresa May and the Conservatives can provide.”
Source: The Guardian
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