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Northern Irish midwives vote to strike over pay at end of month

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Midwives and maternity support worker in Northern Ireland have voted in favour of strike action, in a long-running dispute over pay.

The Royal College of Midwives will be starting industrial action on 30 April with a four hour stoppage.

“Employers have taken midwives’ dedication and commitment and thrown it back in their faces”

Breedagh Hughes

This will be followed by further action from 1-7 May that will consist of RCM members only working overtime if it is agreed they will be paid for it, and taking all the breaks they are entitled to.

The RCM said nearly 90% of its members in Northern Ireland voted “yes”, when asked if they were prepared to strike.

In addition, 97% of voters said they were prepared to take action short of a strike, such as working to rule or protesting.

The turnout of those eligible to vote was 49.9%, said the college.

It is the first time in its 134 year history that members of the RCM in Northern Ireland have voted to strike and, if the action goes ahead, will mark a similar historic moment as when midwives went on strike in England last year.

 

The result of the ballot is:

Question 1: Are you prepared to take part in a strike?

  • Yes         89.7%
  • No          10.3%

Question 2: Are you prepared to take part in action short of a strike?

  • Yes         96.5%
  • No           3.5%

 

The ballot result is the latest development in a drawn out dispute over NHS pay in Northern Ireland, which has outlasted similar situations in England and Wales.

It follows the rejection of the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a 1% pay rise last year and no announcement about pay for this year for health and social care staff in Northern Ireland.

Significantly later that the rest of the UK, ministers in Northern Ireland only recently made a decision on the recommendations for 2014-15 – opting to reject them and instead offer a deal similar to the one previously rejected by unions in England.

The Northern Ireland Executive said staff at the top of their pay band should receive a non-consolidated 1% pay award while staff not at the top would receive no pay award. Meanwhile, there has been no announcement about pay for 2015-16.

In contrast, agreements on pay have been reached with the governments in England following industrial action, and in Wales following negotiation. The Scottish Government accepted the pay review body’s recommendations in full.

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “There is still time for the Northern Ireland Executive to come to the negotiating table to seek a solution. We are seeking urgent talks with the health minister.

“This result from our ballot is an unambiguous ‘yes’: It could not send a clearer signal to those in power about the level of dissatisfaction among our members on this issue,” she said.

Professor Warwick added: “The RCM will be meeting with employers to discuss our action and to ensure that mothers and babies are not put at any risk.”

Breedagh Hughes, RCM director for Northern Ireland, noted that midwives provided a 24/7 service all year round, often working unpaid overtime to ensure care was of the highest level.

“Employers have taken this dedication and commitment and thrown it back in their faces,” she said.

“Our members are now unsurprisingly disillusioned and are fed up with being taken for granted by employers. The level of turn-out and their response testifies to this,” said Ms Hughes.

A Comres poll, carried out last August, suggested that 63% of the British public supported industrial action by midwives, as a protest against not receiving a 1% pay rise.

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