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‘Bullying tactics won’t stop me from voting for industrial action’


I will be on the picket line on 30 November along with my nursing colleagues to stand up to this government, says Linda Hobson

As a nurse of almost 15 years working within the critical care environment I have never been balloted for industrial action. Like all nurses I pay my Nursing and Midwifery Council registration fee every year and ensure that I adhere to my code of professional practice.

I have, along with my nursing colleagues, been following public service pension reforms with great interest; after all, I pay £1,377 out of my part-time salary into my pension on an annual basis. As a Unison member and an activist I have been kept up to date throughout the negotiations on what the proposed changes would mean to me.

The 3% increase in contributions equates to a £457 a year pay cut per year, which is totally unacceptable especially as this will go to the treasury to pay off the deficit caused by the banking crisis. I do not recall any of my colleagues playing fast and loose with the world economy during their night shifts.

I am now facing the prospect of having to work until I’m 67. That means I have to wait an extra seven years until I can collect my state pension. The thought of working 12 and a half hour rotational shifts within critical care at that age gives me great concern regarding my fitness to practise safely.

Nurses within the NHS have traditionally endured low wages and poor annual pay increases but we were assured that we were contributing towards our pensions and we would have enough to live on when we retired.

“Unison was right to respond so robustly to the NMC statement, forcing them to clarify its position”

Many nurses have grown increasingly angry over these proposals and even angrier at the fact that the government just don’t seem to be listening. They just keep perpetuating the same drivel about public service pensions being unaffordable and unsustainable while my colleagues and I are still waiting to make our choice in the NHS Pension Choices exercise, wondering what if anything this choice will now be worth.

As nurses we are angry enough to vote yes for industrial action over the pension dispute but it is not a decision we take lightly. We are being forced into voting yes because the government is just not listening.

We are voting yes on the understanding that in the event of industrial action, emergency measures will be put in place to protect the most vulnerable.

As nurses we always put the patient first. Ask a nurse how many shifts they have worked without a meal break. Ask a nurse how many shifts they have worked without a toilet break. Ask a nurse how many shifts they have worked where they have stayed beyond the finish time without recompense.

Having made the decision to vote yes my attention was quickly drawn towards the Nursing and Midwifery Council over the strategically timed statement it issued in which chief executive and registrar Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes used politically biased and threatening language aimed at intimidating nurses into not voting or voting no.

In stating that “Nurses and midwives are reminded that their registration could be at risk if they fail to comply with the code” and relating this to the decision nurses had to make in relation to industrial action, Professor Weir-Hughes used bullying tactics on a vulnerable and predominantly female staff group.

I know it is my legal right to take part in a legal ballot and any ensuing legal industrial action. I know that my code of professional practice does not prevent me from doing this. However, some nurses were concerned at the tone of the statement, worrying that their jobs would be at risk if they took part in the ballot - let alone any industrial action.

Unison was right to respond so robustly to the NMC statement, forcing them to clarify its position. Although, for me, and many of my colleagues, the damage to the NMC’s reputation has already been done. They have lost even more credibility with registrants who question the registration fee.

As a nurse and a unison activist I have been talking to colleagues about the pension ballot to ensure they make an informed decision when their ballot paper lands. At no time has our trade union intimidated or threatened us to get a yes vote and nor would they.

It makes us wonder why the NMC thought they could issue such a menacing statement without any backlash. The timing of the statement also gives great cause for concern. Surely the NMC should have waited until industrial action was announced before issuing any statement, rather than just before ballot papers were to be sent out, which makes me think it was a politically motivated decision.

As I have already said, I will vote yes and I am prepared to stand on that picket line on 30 November along with my nursing colleagues and, in doing so, we will be standing up to this government. It is not a decision that I have taken lightly, but in making that decision I know that measures will be put in place to protect the most vulnerable.

Linda Hobson is staff nurse at Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle


Readers' comments (13)

  • Absolutely well bloody said!

    This issue is such a strong one that Nurses have finally got angry enough to start fighting back, and I - like you - were glad when the NMC got it's nose bloodied at it's threatening statement. I think that the number of people who would refuse to strike would be a lot more if UNISON hadn't have stepped up. Intimidation like that is rife in our profession, but it has no place here any more and it is time the bullying tactics stopped.

    Staff Nurses must stop letting the powers that be bully, intimidate and scare them into submission!

    Strike action on November 30 will be the first step toward that! And I will see you there on the picket line!!

    But please, everyone, remember this; pensions are only one of the myriad of problems our profession is facing. We are finally showing on this one issue that we CAN stand up for ourselves and win, and that no one can use the bullying tactics of old to stop us! So please, I beg all of you, use your right to strike, take that power and use it to fight for our profession, but don't just stop at pensions. Use it to fight for our profession as a whole! Fairer pay, safer working conditions, staffing levels, jobs, patient care, all of these are examples of things that we can fight for and improve! Just look at Australian Nurses at the moment, they have MUCH better pay and working conditions than we do because they fought for them! They are fighting again now against proposed conditions that are insulting to them, but would be an improvement to us!

    British Nurses NEED to stand up and fight!

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  • Excellent article! And well said Mike, I agree!

    I will be there on the picket line, and if the NMC have a problem with that, well they can come and answer to us all there!

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  • I think the NMC were poorly advised by their legal team regarding their comments on legal strike action - if advice was sought at all.

    They are an embarrassment to our profession not just for their words but the fact these words were put out on a press release - someone's head should roll.

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  • Little One

    The statement from the NMC was very disturbing and certainly did it's job in my University, terrifying most young members of the course into not voting, or voting no for fear of being struck off the register before even starting. I totally agree with this article, from a personal point of view it feels that the NMC deliberately released this article to scare a vulnerable and caring group of people, when most of these people would take it at face value that their registration is on the line, despite industrial action being perfectly legal.

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  • Oh, well said Linda!!

    mike | 20-Oct-2011 11:33 am

    "Staff Nurses must stop letting the powers that be bully, intimidate and scare them into submission!"

    I couldn't agree more.

    Little One | 20-Oct-2011 10:41 pm

    "The statement from the NMC was very disturbing and certainly did it's job in my University, terrifying most young members of the course into not voting, or voting no for fear of being struck off the register before even starting."

    That is a real shame and, indeed, a surprise. At this end of the country, the Nursing students I've spoken to are already painting their placards and polishing their walking boots!! In other words, they are doing exactly what young and, not so young, students have traditionally sticking two fingers up to authority and marching together against injustice. I bloody love student Nurses!! God bless their idealism and fearlessness!

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  • All good, article, Mike as ever astute and forthright.
    There is no one empowered to withdraw registration for taking industrial action that is legally agreed through ballot, as far as I am aware. Certainly some Professor who writes theroy ans spouts rubbish, probably never got his hands dirty cleaning up bedpans.
    As this Government led by David (I got loadsamoney) Cameron breaks up the NHS, treats nurses as imbeciles, and talks about Gadaffi needing to be brought down for the way he treats his citizens; I struggle to see a difference between Cameron and Gadaffi.

    He is killing our pensions, wages and working conditions, making us work longer for less, in a stressful environment where once nurses do retire if not planned well are usually dead within 5 years. So this is Cameron's bullet to employees in the NHS. It's a long an painful torturous death rather than a swift one that a bullet would bring.

    Is there not some eastrern leader willing to invade us with aircraft and special forces to rid us of this dictator; who does not have a majority, is bullying the liberals into submission so he can punish the people of this country, as well as his toffee nosed professors are copying his rhetoric and behaviour trying to scare nurses; roll on the 30th and let the people speak and be heard.

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  • Little One

    Mags | 20-Oct-2011 11:16 pm

    I've spoken to my Nursing Society at University and apparently it is just my cohort (the Nurses qualifying next, brilliant) who appear to be completely apathetic towards the strike, the first and second years are very much looking forward to voting yes and showing their support.

    I think it is that a lot of Students in my cohort are panicking about getting a job when we qualify and think that taking part in industrial action will go against them. Not to mention the fact that after the politics lectures for our last module it was very clear that my cohort were not interested at all after it became apparent that I was the only person who knew who Andrew Lansley was and what the reforms that were being suggested for the NHS and the pension scheme actually meant.

    I feel that as a lot of my cohort are school leavers, they haven't even began to think about their pension and so don't think that it will make any difference to them. They don't want to rock the boat, and despite being able to identify many problems with staffing and conditions within the Hospitals, do not think that their actions, and striking, will make any difference.

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  • Little One | 22-Oct-2011 6:18 am

    Little One, at least you are bothering and perhaps the conversations you've had with your classmates have made them think a little more about what is happening to our profession.

    What is clear to me is that if they and other Nurses do nothing, then jobs will continue to disappear (and any job they get will be down-banded), their pay, terms and conditions will worsen, their pension will be feeble and the profession will remain the lowest-paid, hardest-working and least respected. In which case, I for one will be laying the blame not only at the door of the government. When they have demonstrated awareness,".... to identify many problems with staffing and conditions within the Hospitals,.....", then there really is no excuse for the other student nurses in your class to do nothing.

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  • Little one, it is such a shame to hear that your cohort are displaying the apathy that is ruining our profession, but as Mags said, you should be proud that you at least are trying to do something.

    As Mags said, we are facing a wholesale decimation of our profession, our jobs, our pay and our working conditions. And most Nurses as usual do NOTHING! What will it take to make these apathetic fools realise that it is about FAR more than pensions? Your cohort may be young and not thinking about pensions, fair enough, but surely they don't want to struggle for three years to get a qualification that will see them get no jobs, very little pay or reward for that dedication? Surely they don't want to get a degree which will not get the majority of them a job, and the few that do get a post enter one of the most stressful professions there is only to see bin men get paid more than them? I mean seriously, are they blind? The Nursing profession is ALLOWING the government to cut posts, cut our pay, steal our pensions, and for what? It is self serving, cowardly, and pathetic.

    BUT, as long as there are SOME, like you, who are willing to fight, then there is hope. Keep it up Little one, (ooh I sounded all like Yoda!)

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  • Little One

    Mags | 23-Oct-2011 10:34 am

    Hopefully so, we're trying to raise awareness so more students will support the industrial action.

    Speaking of Nurses doing nothing, I had the most bizarre and awful conversation with my new mentor yesterday, who swore blind that you couldn't strike once you were qualified and that she wasn't even part of a union. Quite worrying really for a Nurse who's been qualified for some time.

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