Last week a little bit of history was made. Nurses joined other healthcare workers from Unite, Unison and the GMB to protest over the government’s refusal to award a blanket 1% pay rise, and went on strike over pay for the first time since the 1980s.
And the Royal College of Midwives went on strike for the first time in its 133-year history (see page 5).
The Nursing Times team joined staff on the picket lines to find out exactly why they had decided to take action. We visited 10 organisations: seven across the capital, and three in Nottinghamshire and Cambridgeshire.
One midwife from The Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge told me: “We are not asking for the moon on a stick. We just want what is fair, and what an independent body has recommended - 1%. It’s not much.” Another colleague agreed, stating the rise in Nursing and Midwifery Council fees and car parking fees alone were making it more expensive to do her job, and this was without taking into consideration cost of living rises.
At every picket line, we asked what the strikers’ message for the health secretary Jeremy Hunt was.
It was, they said unanimously, to listen to them. But it seemed Mr Hunt was not listening. While the chants of “What do we want? Fair Pay. When do we want it? Now” were taking place, he was trying to drown out the noise by making a statement about the risks of ebola for the breakfast news bulletins. He was not listening. Instead of being set to receive, he was adjusted only to transmit.
But fortunately later on that morning, some of the media did ask him directly about pay. His answer was that the government could not afford to pay more because it would cost nurses’ jobs.
The government has choices to make about how it spends taxpayers’ money, and it is choosing not to spend it on paying nurses a fair wage. But can Mr Hunt really afford not to pay nurses more? Can he afford a winter of discontent with more industrial action? While the numbers on the picket lines weren’t huge, the public sympathy for care givers was showing no sign of waning. Car horns tooted to show their solidarity, and at one trust in London, a passerby tried to press a £20 note into the hands of striking midwives.
Nurses and the public believe that health workers deserve a fair wage and are prepared to fight for it, and if the government wants to win the election, Mr Hunt had better start listening soon.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed