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EDITOR’S COMMENT

'The appetite for pay protests appears strong'

To the millions of healthcare workers in the UK, the pay squeeze isn’t a debating point on Newsnight or a politically positioned challenge on Question Time.

It’s something that forces them to financially struggle and make sacrifices, and Westminster would do well to remember that when it makes its decisions about the NHS pay bill.

During a motion at last week’s Unison health conference on whether to take industrial action over pay, one healthcare worker from Exeter, on £20,000 a year and a single parent, described how his daughter came home from school and rang him to tell him there was no food in the fridge. He told delegates she was right, there wasn’t. He then broke down as he told the audience how she’d found the number for Wonga on his phone when she was playing with the internet, and she asked: “Daddy, is that a bad company?”

His story is not unique. The conference was full of workers talking about their struggles to pay bills or buy food, and how they were working second jobs or taking out pay-day loans.

Workers are saying enough is enough - they seem intent on taking industrial action - be that demonstrations, non-cooperation or even strikes

The Exeter worker went on to declare from the rostrum: “I can’t afford to strike, but I can’t afford not to strike either.”

The government just might have misjudged its decision to cut these workers’ pay. Because the mood of the conference was clear. While not everyone was in favour of holding a ballot for industrial action, the appetite for making a protest was stronger than in previous years. Workers are saying enough is enough - and the majority seems intent on taking industrial action - be that demonstrations, non-cooperation or even strikes.

There was also an appetite to change staffing levels, fuelled by Unison’s Running on Empty report covered in last week’s Nursing Times. A meeting of the recently formed Four-to-One group also taking place in Brighton, attracted a crowd of people who were motivated to insist on not just safer but safe staffing levels. This group is determined to emulate the action taken by nurses in Australia and California to get mandatory minimum staffing levels set at one nurse for four patients. It is mobilising nurses to come together and present patient safety issues to their managers - ending the fear and isolation that has kept many from speaking out.

Again and again at last week’s conference, there were cries of “we are stronger together”, and that’s something the government hasn’t factored into its number crunching. The power of healthcare staff lies in their numbers. The government should have done its sums around pay with that in mind. I think it may be time to get their calculators out again and shift their priorities.

Jenni Middleton, editor

jenni.middleton@emap.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

Readers' comments (8)

  • Health workers have been subsidising the finances of the NHS for the last four years. Had they kept up with real inflation (at least RPI) the NHS would have been in a financial crisis two years ago. Think out of the box for industrial action - look at working to contract where patient care is unaffected?

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  • The Bankers keep taking and the members of this multi millionaire Government still bank huge profits from their portfolios, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

    Nurses will always be considered ancillary by this putrid government as they care little about us despite the platitudes.

    The ambulance service strike in 1990 raised the public's awareness of exactly what they actually do for a living and their profile and pay structure benefitted. During this strike, Kenneth Clarke stood in the House of Commons, lambasted them for having the gall to strike calling them "glorified taxi drivers."

    The attitude of rich, well bred, posh Tory toffs who are far removed from realities of life at the bottom of the social and pay structure has not changed and continues to be insulting.

    Roll on 2015.

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  • Why strike and lose a days pay? Work to contract. Start at your designated time have a lunch break stop at your designated time. Don't take work home don't do extra shifts. Simple as that and there's nothing they can do about it as you are working to contract,you lose no pay they panic especially when the work starts piling up and doesn't get done

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  • Anonymous | 26-Apr-2014 12:27 pm

    seems to be the most appropriate response, especially if a large number do it. nurses can then always reflect on the effects and if they really see fit build up to more drastic actions at a later date with minimum harm to patients. From the employment point of view there is no reason why nurses should work beyond their contracted hours for a day or two or the length of time they decide together, as well as taking all their entitled breaks, to make an impact and it should hopefully make their managers and employers sit up and think and react accordingly with more suitable solutions.

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  • We are the hardworking of the tory policy focus are we not? Mr Hunt said so this morning on Marr. Exactly what are they doing to support us?

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  • We are not all in this together.
    Do you know how much the chief executive of your local foundation trust gave themselves and their cronies?
    To find the answer look in the annual report, I was shocked at how much our very senior managers got when we got 1%

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  • Working to contract is easier said than done! It will harm patients - because the NHS is so reliant on good will. Compassionate nurses - Government did you hear that- will not consistently take this action simply because if a patient needs them they will not go to their break or go home. Personally I have no wish to disrupt my local workplace because that only makes things harder and upsets patients. I would prefer demonstrations, nationally organised which I can attend on a day off. Unfortunately our cynical Government knows this.

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  • The more this govt pushes for obsessing about compassion, the less they hope the public support will be for strike or direct action. Shifty, nasty and self interested tories. Bevan was right

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