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OPINION

Cathy Warwick: 'Voting for strike action will not put women and babies at risk'

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I hope midwives will support the RCM by voting “yes” to industrial action, says Cathy Warwick

Never before in our history has the Royal College of Midwives balloted its members over industrial action, and we have been around since the days of Queen Victoria. Our decision to ballot our members in England is not one we take lightly or casually, but when it comes to NHS pay it’s time to say to employers that enough is enough.

Midwives’ pay was frozen for two years, in 2011 and 2012, followed by a below-inflation, 1% pay rise in 2013. This year the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommended another modest 1% rise for all midwives, nurses and other non-medical staff in the health service. This was rejected. Instead, only staff at the top of their pay scale will get the 1% uplift, with pay scales frozen for everyone else. But even this small rise for some staff won’t last. It will be cancelled in 2016, with pay dropping back down. It seems incredible, but a fall in midwives’ pay is actually planned for the future.

“As the number of births has risen and risen and risen, midwives have been working hour after hour of unpaid overtime to keep the service operating. They give their all, and now their employers tell them they aren’t worth a 1% pay rise”

These years of pay restraint have had a big impact on the household budgets of midwives and maternity support workers. If the pay of a typical midwife had simply risen in line with inflation since 2010, they would today earn over £4,000 more per year than they actually do. That’s the equivalent of a family’s energy bills for three years. Midwives and maternity support workers are seriously worse off than they were. They now face another year of having to sit down and make some very tough decisions about whether there is anything left to cut from their household budget. I hate to think about the impact this is having on their families, especially their children.

I spend a lot of time out of the office, visiting maternity units up and down the country. What I see is the wonderful, incredibly important work that midwives and maternity support workers do, and what stands out, in particular, is that they do all that while maternity services in England are thousands of midwives short and have been for at least a decade. They work flat out every day to minimise the impact that this deep and enduring shortage of midwives has on women. As the number of births has risen and risen and risen, they have been working hour after hour of unpaid overtime to keep the service operating. They give their all, and now their employers tell them they aren’t worth it.

We are asking NHS employers in England to honour the NHS Pay Review Body’s modest recommendation of a 1% pay rise.
I simply cannot accept that for everything they do and everything they give to the health service, midwives and maternity support workers are not even worth a 1% pay rise.

Our dispute is not with the women for whom our members care, it is with the employers who are offering them
so little.

I want to make it clear that if our members vote to go ahead with industrial action, pregnant women needing care will get it. No ifs, no buts. Women and babies will not be put at risk and no one will be asked to break their professional code of conduct. Safety will always come first.

All we are asking is for employers to value the good work midwives and maternity support workers do by giving them a fair pay rise.

Our members have taken years of pay restraint, with years more to come. As ballot papers start to land on midwives’ doorsteps across England, I hope they will support the RCM by voting “yes” to industrial action.

● For further information on the RCM’s ballot, see https://www.rcm.org.uk/content/rcm-members-working-in-the-nhs-in-england-to-be-balloted-for-industrial-action

Cathy Warwick CBE is general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives

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