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Are we gearing up for a summer of strikes?

Fed up with low pay, pensions, poor working conditions, lack of respect for the profession and cuts to services, which threaten their jobs and ability to do them well, nurses are considering industrial action.

The idea was almost universally supported at the recent Unison and RCN congresses in Liverpool.

The official ballots have yet to be taken, but the appetite for working to rule or coming out on full strike is definitely increasing as nurses feel marginalised.

And nurses are not alone in their dissatisfaction. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development’s (CIPD) Employment Relations Survey of 400 organisations earlier this month revealed that employers in the public sector are worried about industrial action, with just under half (49%) saying their workers may strike in the coming year.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD, said the survey showed that spending cuts are affecting the employment relations climate, but added that in the light of the tough times endured by private sector staff through the recession, striking public sector workers will quickly lose sympathy if they cause disruption to the public.

Teachers are also gearing up to take strike action over their pensions, and London Underground’s recent spate of walkouts have almost brought the capital to a halt, but action by these groups doesn’t directly risk anyone’s health. Every second of a nurse’s time is vital to patient care, and since on average they perform an additional unpaid shift each week, patients, carers and their relatives, as well as their managers, will certainly notice the difference in standards of care if nurses work only contracted hours - let alone if they strike fully. This is a tricky situation for nurses to navigate.

Nurses are compassionate, and tell us they find it hard to walk off and take a break on time if a crisis is taking place on a ward, or to leave a patient’s home on the dot when they ask for an extra five minutes to explain how to take their medication.

Industrial action may well be the only way that nurses feel they will be heard but, ironically, it’s harder for nurses to take this step than it is for any other public sector workers.

Readers' comments (35)

  • I certainly hope so!

    But I wish we would get away from 'it's harder for Nurses to...' Yes we are all compassionate, yes we have a duty of care to patients and yes our presence is vital to their care.

    However, this has been used against us as emotional blackmail for far too long, and it needs to stop. Now.

    Other public sector workers know the power of strike action. It is about time we started using it too.

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  • its the only way in afraid

    this govt just take take take
    well if we dont stand up for ourselves then we will have nothing left!!

    already a cornwall trust is "re-banding" nurses..but its not about saving money..oh no no no.........course not!!!!!!!

    every day there is a threat of this a threat of that

    we have to stand up and fight..or god forbide what the next few years are going to be like

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  • no money left comrades.
    strike if you wish-you just have to go back and pick up the pieces and god forbid bodies.
    isn't there enough in the press about lazy nurses too posh to wash without actually voting for it.
    learn from the airlines.
    BA did the English strike bit-public hated them and deserted the service.
    Singapore air signed agreements to lower salaries until financial crises over-took a year and then salaries and bonus re instated-public loved them-sensible negotiation.
    learn or suffer the public's backlash comrades.
    here is an idea-negotiate.
    in fact why not start with claiming your overtime?
    move on to staffing.
    get the figures into the press.
    make folk realize they pay for the free care by tax and tax is too low for what they desire-so has to go up.
    reality bites-don't let unions and govt back you into the corner where you become the enemy.

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  • Frazer you are absolutely wrong. The difference between airline staff and Nurses is that we are KEY WORKERS!!!!! Perhaps a better comparison would be teachers, who generally get their way by striking, and the Fire Service, who went on strike and won. LEARN FROM OTHER PUBLIC SERVICES AND KEY WORKERS!!

    The public would be on our side once they realise we are not just fighting for pay and security etc (which we are), but also for patient care and services!!! We would actually be doing MORE to help our patients if we DID go on strike!!!!

    And furthermore, tax is NOT too low to provide a world class health service, with enough, decently paid staff (and a Nurse/patient ratio in place too). We pay a very high level of tax thank you very much. It is the proportional delegation of our tax money that is wrong. How many billions are spent on subsidies to Europe/ on foreign aid/ on subsidies to third world countries/ on missile strikes in Libya/ on benefit scroungers/ on MP's gold plated salaries and expenses (yes they still get them!)/ etc etc etc. I could go on. How much of that money could be better spent reinforcing our health care system for a start?

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  • Sorry Fraser....negotiate?? What do you think we have always done?! And I agree that we should continue to do. However, reality check. When nurses start talking seriously about taking industrial action, then the government of the day should sit up and listen with very big ears.
    The BA dispute was an incredibly acrimonious affair, in large part due to the attitudes of the opposing protagonists. We are not, nor should we be compared to an airline or that dispute in particular.
    "no money left comrades"? Don't believe it! We seem to have enough to send our armed forces around the planet into various no-win situations, putting our soldiers at risk and costing us all billions. And how much are we paying to maintain the staus quo in the banking system?
    I am not a recession denier. However, it is simply not acceptable to punish those who didn't cause it with attacks to their jobs and conditions on so many fronts. Your ideas for possible solutions? They and many others have already been tried, and guess what? They didn't work!!
    And with regard to your fear of " the public's backlash"......if we don't robustly defend our working terms, services and staffing levels, then I dread to think of the consequences and public backlash that will result.

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  • Dear Fraser,

    You mentioned in your comment that we should claim for our overtime. Could I ask how we would do that exactly when the Trust boards have denied nurses any overtime and will not approve payment. We are told we need to work to the job so therefore any extra we do is our own responsibility. Negotiations have broken down in response to money being claimed. If one nurse goes sick it is not covered. It is the same in the police force at the present moment in our area. The only time shifts are covered is if it is holiday.

    Could I also ask if you are wanting to take a pay cut? Can you actually afford to live in this present climate with the rise in food and fuel prices? I have a family and I can not afford to give any more, or have any taken away. I believe it is now time to seriously consider Strike action to preserve our future in this country and ensure we do not end up being downgraded to public slave workers.

    I do not wish to have to take any sort of industrial action, and I do worry about the patients under our care. I also am concerned regarding the money I would lose in striking, BUT I would lose my dignity and respect if I back down. Don't be foolish Fraser, look at what is really happening and open your eyes to the state the government is dragging us into

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  • Maybe it's time to privatize or partly privatize the NHS? Charging for the care we provide would generate income that could be re-injected in the public sector. Also, if the Government was pledging to lower tax to generate jobs instead of increasing them that result in job cut, we wouldn't be at this tough period that we are coming through right now.

    It's also time to promote those who deserve through performance management instead of promoting those who still lack of proficiency, lack of leadership, team working, lack of action in resolving issues. Some Management post need to be review as some are purely waste of space and cost a lot in tea bags....

    The reform have to be done within the NHS but the Government have to give us the right tools and empowerment to do this. Some nurse e.g. A&E nurses, need to be given the authority to turn down those who still use the emergency department as GP service and this without even going through admission process.

    GP are there to assess those who need A&E admission, not patients themselves. Junior Doctors also need to review their assertiveness and stop allowing overnight stay for what can be review as outpatient. The cost in the NHS come from bad gestion and management.

    So either we allow to perpetuate such bad management in this case we start to privatize or partly privatize the NHS and then try to create job, or we prioritize a better management system that reduce admin work, waste of time and unnecessary use of precious resourcing that can be allocated to those who need.

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  • re above comments
    are you sure your name is not m.thatcher!!

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  • Re: Frederic Coutin

    It is you Maggie, isn't it? Anonymous@ 12.21pm is right! We recognise your style.

    Privatise the NHS? Performance management? A&E nurses need to be given the authority to turn away patients?

    How about we refuse treatment to those with Hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease? After all they brought it on themselves....they ate all the pies and sat in front of the TV for years and are costing us a fortune in treatments. And what about those who fall off ladders, ski slopes and garden trampolines (you know who you are!), or slip and break bones on the icy pavements in the winter months.....I mean, they should have been more careful. Why should we nurses treat them? Oh that's right..... we are supposed to approach our patients WITHOUT judgement and WITH compassion!!!

    Go back to the past Mrs.'re not welcome here. We are having enough trouble with the present incumbent of Downing Street!

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  • Anonymous | 28-Apr-2011 12:21 pm

    re above comments
    are you sure your name is not m.thatcher!!

    so what if it is? M. Thatcher has as much right to be as anybody else! Kindly show some respect for others as well as yourself seeing that you appear to hold your own opinion in such high esteem!

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  • Anonymous 28-Apr-2011 3.59pm
    get off your high horse. in case you hadn't noticed, this is a forum for expressing opinions. you seem to hold your own opinion in high esteem, so maybe you should be careful of your own glass house.

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  • anonymous 3.59pm
    Or get a sense of humour!!!!!

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  • not sure if Mrs Thatcher has a sense of humour!

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  • Anonymous | 28-Apr-2011 4:22 pm

    Poor soul!

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  • Every time industrial action is mentioned people immediately think of strikes. If we, instead of striking, simply refused to use computers, collect information for, or contribute to audit etc and refused to collect or record the information needed for Trust targets we could cause maximum disruption to the NHS while still carrying out patient care.

    There must be many ways of targeting Trusts and the government without having to walk out on strike.

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  • Anonymous | 28-Apr-2011 10:19 pm

    Couldn't agree with you more. On previous forums on the subject of industrial action, there have been many ideas involving restriction of non-essential admin tasks, working to scheduled hours and taking breaks. I think that strike action is the very last thing that the vast majority of nurses wish to do. It would however, require resolve and unity within the profession for these measures to be effective. That's where my concern lies.

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  • Anonymous | 28-Apr-2011 10:19 pm and others, Its not that I don't agree with you, I do, but working to rule simply will not be enough now.

    Quite apart from the fact that working to rule should be the NORMAL working practices for us, the only thing that will get noticed, that will hit the government and trusts where it really hurts and essentially force them into a no win situation (ie 'do as we say otherwise you have no health service in this country until we go back to work'), is to strike. The only way is for every single Nurse, on one day, in unison, leave work. Strike. Turn up at demonstrations instead and FORCE the government to concede to our demands for better pay, more respect/status, better/safer working conditions, better patient care, etc etc.

    Look at the precedents, Nurses have gone on strike in Australia, and won. The firefighters have gone on strike, the government tried to fight them, but they won. Teachers at least threaten to strike all the time, generally, they win. This CAN and WILL work, if only we stand up and fight! Now is the time people!

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  • Mike 29-Apr-2011 1:30pm

    I take your point and I suspect you are correct; nothing short of strike action would achieve our aims instantly. However, I simply don't think that enough nurses would go out on strike. Every single nurse, on one day is just not going to happen. Strike action needs to be the last option, and it would have to be organised to be effective without threat to the lives of our patients. However, I feel that nurses really do have to participate in concerted action which will have sufficient impact. And be persistent. I worry that the momentum from the Unison and RCN Congresses will dissipate, if we don't stop talking, get organised and act soon.

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  • May be all unions should send a rep to Australia to check with their counterpart how they did it? that could be a start. How did they convince nurses to strike down under? Personnally I don't see myself going on strike , I would have nightmares. Mind you I am having nightmares about our pay and some conditions at the moment but at least I am not responsible for the death of someone. Sorry guys but some of us need to be convinced a little bit more. knowledge is power they say. Once we have the proof that it might work we will join the strike train.

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  • Fraser, wake up and smell the coffee!!!

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