The Royal College of Nursing has announced that it will consult its members on how to react to the government’s latest round of pay restraint.
The elected governing body of the RCN today agreed to consult its members after UK governments kept to the 1% pay cap last week.
“Take this important opportunity to make your voice heard”
The RCN council voted to ask members about the impact of pay restraint and how the college should respond, including whether members should consider taking industrial action.
The college said in a statement issued on Wednesday evening that the “shape of the consultation will be decided in the coming weeks” and will be launched before the RCN’s annual congress in May.
As a result, it is unclear whether the move will take the form of an indicative ballot with members given a set of answers to choose from to respond to specific questions, or whether the questions will be more open-ended, as is the case for most consultations on draft proposals and guidelines.
In either case, the consultation represents an attempt to put the government under pressure and could potentially pave the way for a formal ballot asking members if they are in favour of taking some form of industrial action.
Nursing Times has also asked the RCN to confirm whether or not the consultation covers members across the UK, the presumption being that it does.
Last month, the separate governments of England, Scotland and Wales all accepted the 1% pay rise recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body for staff on the Agenda for Change contract – though Scotland and Wales also announced extras for the lowest paid staff.
Northern Ireland currently has no government so no announcement on pay has yet been made.
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It is the fourth year in a row that a 1% pay rise has been imposed by the government, as part of a long-term strategy of remuneration restraint in the wake of severe pressure on NHS finances.
However, a growing number of influential voices have joined nurses and their unions in denouncing the continuation in future of such low pay rises that fall below the current level of inflation and are, therefore, often described as a “virtual pay cut” by campaigners.
The pay review body itself voiced concerns about the long-term use of pay restraint in its report to ministers, as did peers earlier today in a major report on the sustainability of the NHS, which warned that it was damaging morale and the ability of trusts to recruit nurses and other staff.
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In a statement on the consultation, Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “The decision taken today by RCN council shows their concern for the impact continued pay restraint is having on dedicated nursing staff.
“The pay cap is fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis, and when compounded by issues such as down banding, substitution of roles and student funding changes, it’s a perfect storm for nursing,” she said.
“I urge members to look out for this consultation and share their views with us; we are a member-led organisation and you will directly shape the next steps of our Nursing Counts campaign,” she said. “Take this important opportunity to make your voice heard.”
The RCN itself has been a vocal critic of the current 1% freeze on NHS pay rises via its “Scrap the Cap” campaign. A successful petition has also sparked a debate in parliament.
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However, the college did not join other unions – Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives – in striking over pay in 2014, when the government initially attempted to impose a deal without using the traditional pay review body process.
The unions finally accepted a revised government offer including a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff up to pay point 42, the second point on band 8c (£56,504) from 1 April 2015.
It also saw a one-year increment freeze for staff on pay point 34, the second point of band 8a (£40,458) and above, and additional changes to benefit those on the lowest pay scales,
In addition, it included a commitment by ministers to continue using the independent NHS Pay Review Body in future years for setting remuneration levels.