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