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Unison votes in favour of ballot over pay action

Members of Unison have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ballot on industrial action, including striking, over the government’s pay offer for NHS staff.

NHS pay was debated this morning at Unison’s annual health conference in Brighton, with the union’s health service group executive putting forward an emergency motion to allow a ballot for industrial action – both strike action and action short of striking, such as working to rule.

Speaking in favour of the motion, Unison head of heath Christina McAnea said: “This motion lays out a strategy to campaign, to agitate and to fight for fair pay for all staff in the NHS.

“Members neither strike often or easily. But this time it feels that we have no choice,” she told delegates.

“So the motion is calling for a ballot – not an indicative ballot but an industrial action ballot for strike action and action short of strike action,” said Ms McAnea.

Following an emotional debate, the motion was passed overwhelmingly. Most members spoke in favour of strike action, but three speakers also spoke out against striking, though all noted their anger over pay.

It is understood that such a ballot is likely to take place in the summer, though an exact date is yet to be decided.

“I know that as well as being incredibly angry, many members will be nervous or reluctant to take strike action”

Christina McAnea

Any subsequent strike would be likely to follow various other forms of industrial action, such as working to rule, Nursing Times understands.

Prior to that, Ms McAnea said the union would engage in activities to draw attention to the issue, but that did not require a ballot. “We will be starting with protests and action days,” she told delegates.

The first of these “protest days” is scheduled to take place on 5 June with another expected the following month.

Ms McAnea said: “Let’s have a day all health unions can be part of and use this day to build support for a resounding ‘yes’ vote when we ballot for strike action.”

However, it is unclear at this stage whether the ballot on industrial action will be UK-wide, given the different pay offer in Scotland, but it will definitely cover England. Any such decision will be dependent on discussions between the union’s leaders and its regional offices.

The effectiveness of any such action is likely to be dependent on whether other unions – most notably the Royal College of Nursing, but also Unite and the GMB – agree to work together.

Yesterday Unison general secretary Dave Prentis called on the Royal College of Nursing and other health unions to “stand shoulder to shoulder” in opposing the government’s pay deal.

Christina McAnea

Christina McAnea

The vote follows the government’s decision to reject a 1% pay deal for all NHS staff in England. Instead, the government is attempting to impose a deal where staff eligible for an incremental rise will receive no separate cost of living pay increase, while those at the top of their band will receive 1% rises for two years.

In comparison, the Scottish government has said all NHS staff on Agenda for Change in Scotland will get 1%. The situation in Wales and Northern Ireland remains unclear.

Ms McAnea added: “We need to prepare and we need more detailed discussions in regional and devolved health committees about who will be balloted, scope, timing and types of action.

“If you carry this motion prepare for a long campaign,” she told delegates. “A campaign that will include a mixture of action that everyone and all unions can be part of whether they’ve balloted or not.”

She acknowledged that strike action was often a difficult issue for frontline healthcare staff, especially nurses.

“I don’t underestimate how difficult this will be – I know that as well as being incredibly angry, many members will be nervous or reluctant to take strike action.

“But we’re all leaders in this hall,” she told the conference in her motion-supporting speech. “And we all need to take this campaign out to members and explain the issues, let’s harness that very real anger and turn it into action.”

This afternoon fellow union Unite confirmed it would be consulting its 100,000 NHS members over possible strike action over pay.

This will take the form of an indicative ballot, which is expected to take place next month.

 

Readers' comments (15)

  • All very well going for a ballot but they need to get the members votes. Last time on pensions UNISON only got 21% that does not give them a mandate.
    members need to get up and vote.

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  • Unison needs to prioritise non-strike industrial action which is more likely to get both staff and public support. Most staff will be personally unable to take conventional strike action.

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  • Demonstrations are a start, but I doubt very much someone as arrogant as Hunt can be persuaded to budge without at least work-to-rule. I think in the long run it might actually help for the public to see what happens to services when health professionals only work the hours they're paid for...

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  • I don't agree strike is appropriate and the answer to the concerns. What about patient care, health and dignity? That's why we are there at the day. I don't think it shows a professional approach to resolving pay issues.

    And what about students who will be on placement to learn? What does a strike teach them? And the wider MDT that is of importance for good care - what happens when the nurse isn't there? The nurse is the link between the patient, family and MDT.

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  • Anonymous | 15-Apr-2014 3:51 pm

    Not a personal dig, but your views are why Hunt has walked all over us!

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  • It would be interesting to know what percentage of nurses support these unions and whether the numbers commenting here are representative of the whole population of nurses.

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  • Anonymous 3-15pm

    Nursing is just a job not a vocation-your views are outdated-I want to be able to afford a car, a house and trips abroad for my family-I do my job well and want better pay and if it takes a strike so be it

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  • general management which was founded for the manufacturing industry and erroneously transferred to healthcare has taken its toll on the NHS staff and healthcare professionals and influenced their attitude which now considers patients as a commodity, as in insurance oriented services in other countries, and where considerations of pay and striking takes precedent over their well being. what hopes are there now of ever improving healthcare if the organisation no longer focuses on its sole purpose? the NHS as it was once known and valued exists no more.

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  • Anonymous 15.4.14 3.15pm

    You are kidding, right?

    Try reading Hunt's book - he hates the NHS. He is in the process of moving the NHS from a provider to a commissioner only of care. To make the NHS attractive to potential investors he is trying to reduce the cost base - the pension is billions in the black (which the Treasury keeps) yet we are now working longer, contributing more and you get a smaller pension. Salaries are the biggest cost to the NHS - so Hunt is now attacking them to reduce the cost base. This has already happened to social care, where most carers receive only the Minimum Wage. Consequently, the social care system is a mess which often fails to meet the needs of patients, and all the while taxpayer monies are shovelled into the pockets of private investors. Be clear that Hunt's agenda has nothing to do with good patient care.
    We have had real terms pay cuts for four years, and unlike Hunt who on his six figure salary (which does not require a single qualification - nurses as I am sure you know require a degree, my job minimum Masters) and taxpayer subsidised bar/meals/accomodation etc, I and every other nurse is worth it.
    The zeal which Hunt demonstrates in trying to drive down costs will not be stopped by trivial approaches such as protesting in your lunch break, trying to finish on time, or working to rule (whatever that means), the only language he understands is striking. Mind, he will have a whole strategy prepared to try to deal with striking to turn the public against us, but we need to do this - a well motivated and renumerated workforce is one that provides excellent care for patients. A nursing workforce that is working additional shifts to provide the basics for their family is a tired workforce with the obvious impact on patient care.
    So stop being so blinkered, look at the bigger picture, and fight for a proper real terms pay rise - it 's good for patients as well as nurses. The polar opposite is true if we have another real terms pay cut.

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  • Anonymous 3:15pm. I've said this before but will repeat for your benefit. The NZNO is the nurses union in NZ, and taken very seriously by the NZ Government. Why? Because they are a striking union: nurses have been on strike and negotiated themselves a better deal because of it. Was anyone harmed by strike action? Only if you count consultants having to deal with bedpans for a change! Most were inconvenienced; the trust bosses tried to use the press to vilify nurses but the public saw right through it. Why did they strike? Well, sometimes folk do not realise what they have until it's not there. What might surprise you even more is that the NZNO secured a 20% pay rise (yes that's not a typo) for front line staff because they did their homework, compared nurses' pay with teachers and the police, and then threatened the government with legal action over a whopping gender gap in pay. Could this kind of thing happen over here? Only if we stop bickering and whingeing about the small cr*p and stand together. Until we do that Hunt has us right where he wants us.

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  • If nurses worked their contracted hours only and withdrew their goodwill and unpaid overtime. The NHS would grind to a halt in less than a week. Go to it and good luck...

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  • Teachers on average earn substantially more than nurses. Teachers strike, nurses don't. How much more evidence to people need about how you will be treated if you never strike?

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  • Gareth Phillips | 16-Apr-2014 7:14 am

    I agree, teachers can and will strike when they feel their conditions are being eroded.

    Teachers in England are not in a registration body (GTCE) which was disbanded a few years ago, saving money for everyone and the education system has not collapsed as a result. They still have challenges to face such as lack of resources, support, targets, etc.

    I think from qualified status upwards, they earn higher salaries, including enhancement for previous experiences when entering the profession, they move up pay grades each year which has yearly inflationary rises and I've not heard of teacher being down-banded.

    Striking does work, not sure about effectiveness of working to rule.

    But not voting MPs from the current government's parties in all future elections would send a clear message that they are elected by the population to serve our needs, not the other way round.

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  • Working to rule does not work. End of. Listen to the example of the NZ and Autralian nurses.

    Daft statements like 'it's a vocation, not a well paid career' doesn't pay the mortgage / gas / lekky / food / clothing / spectacles bills etc etc help Hunt, not nurses.

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  • Sorry, should have said 'it helps Hunt, not nurses'

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