Embattled council representatives at the Royal College of Nursing are fighting back against an attempt to have them removed by appealing to the union’s members to stand by the group.
Their plea comes ahead of an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) later this month, in which members will vote on a motion to have the current council replaced amid a row over the 2018 NHS pay deal in England.
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The EGM was called following a petition by more than 1,000 RCN members to discuss the college’s communications and processes surrounding the deal, which the majority voted to accept earlier this year.
As previously reported by Nurisng Times, angry members claim they were “misled” by the RCN after many received much less in their pay packets than they were expecting.
They have also raised concerns about the language used during the pay campaign, including RCN chief negotiator Josie Irwin’s description of members as “delusional” if they did not accept the deal.
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Janet Davies resigned from her role of RCN chief executive and general secretary last month by “mutual agreement” over the pay deal controversary.
The signatories of the petition asked for a vote of no confidence in the current leadership of the RCN and for the council to stand down. Their wish was granted and the vote will take place at the EGM, which will be held in Birmingham on Friday, 28 September.
Members were last night sent an email about how to cast their votes. The voting process is being led by the independent organisation, Electoral Reform Services (ERS), which is also carrying out an external review of the college’s handling of the pay deal.
The RCN council has called on members to reject the motion. In a statement, the council said: “It has undoubtedly been a challenging few months for the college, and those few months came at a time when the college had been negotiating for a number of years with a government intent on an austerity agenda.
“We believe we are firmly headed in the right direction, taking careful measure and advice from independent and expert sources, listening to and engaging with our members, and deciding with them upon the direction of the organisation,” it said (see attached PDF below).
“We would ask you to disagree with the resolution”
“We hope that you will join in this process, and that we have your confidence to implement changes that will benefit the college and you its members,” it added,
“In keeping with our trade union processes, the college’s council elections are scheduled to be launched at Congress in May 2019,” it said. “We would ask you to disagree with the resolution.”
The council pointed out that the day-to-day running of the college was the responsibility of the RCN executive team, which was previously led by Ms Davies. Dame Donna Kinnair has taken over Ms Davies’ former role in an acting capacity.
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Council representatives are drawn from the RCN membership and are also elected by them. However, campaigners have stood by their call for the council to stand down and “accept accountability for the actions of the RCN in relation to the 2018 pay award”.
In a statement, they highlighted rule seven of the RCN charter that says: “There shall be a council of the college which shall have the general control and management of the administration of the college and may exercise all the powers vested in it by law”.
They added: “We therefore believe that regardless of any recommendations that are made by the inquiry and recommended for implementation, the necessary election processes should be put in place to allow members to choose a fresh council to carry forward work to ensure that a similar situation is not allowed to occur again.”
The RCN confirmed it would soon publish the interim findings of the ERS review and they will be discussed at the EGM.
The row erupted after many nurses received a smaller pay boost than they were expecting this summer.
Many RCN members thought they were all going to get a 3% rise in their July wage packets and claimed this was what they were told by the college.
It was later made clear that only those at the top of their pay band would get the 3% immediately, with others at the lower end getting on average 1.5% until their incremental date.
At the end of July, Ms Davies issued a personal apology to members over the confusion, before later resigning.
Danielle Tiplady, a nurse in London who was a key player behind the petition, will present the resolution at the EGM.
The 31-year-old told Nursing Times she believed the RCN leadership had “failed” its members.
She said: “This deal wasn’t communicated properly. We were told different about what we were going to get and that shouldn’t have happened. We elected people into a position of trust and they let us down.
“The council are the leadership of the organisation and our governing body so the accountability lies with them.”
Ms Tiplady said she had raised concerns about the pay deal communication at the RCN congress in May but it “wasn’t followed up”.
She added: “I hope no matter what comes out of this that people will start listening to the membership because clearly there’s a disconnect between the membership and those who lead us and govern us.
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“When we opened our July pay packets that was the first time I have seen people really talk about pay and what’s happened – people are really angry because they voted in trust and that trust is gone.”
Ms Tiplady said the petitioners had been wrongly perceived as a “militant left-wing group” and insisted that they were just ordinary nurses who “care passionately” about the issue.