Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick has labelled the pay dispute between NHS employers and midwives as “mission-critical,” claiming the row marks the start of a campaign to devalue workers’ salaries across the UK.
She said the dispute was “entirely of the government’s making” after it refused the independent Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a blanket 1% pay rise for all NHS staff and that this had wider implications beyond England.
The RCM chief executive claimed the government could increase spending on the NHS and staff salaries if it wanted, but had made a “conscious decision” to hold down pay.
She added that if the review body had suggested there should be no salary increase for staff, then midwives would have accepted this outcome.
“This is an assault on the NHS pay system and on the independence and integrity of the review body. And it has been implemented by the employers with whom we are now in dispute,” said Professor Warwick during her opening speech at the RCM annual conference this morning.
“I believe this is about more than a single pay award. It is about feeling demoralised, and tired, and frustrated”
She stated: “This government is inconsistent. Last year Chancellor George Osborne stated that a 1% pay rise was affordable for all healthcare staff, the pay review body agreed and the government reneged.
“This is effectively the start of a campaign to devalue your pay; it has started in England but it has implications across the UK.,” she claimed.
Professor Warwick said that while it was “legitimate” for critics to question whether the pay rise was affordable, the government was able to prioritise money for the NHS if it wanted.
She said: “If there is not enough money for the NHS, that is because the government has decided to limit its budget, and to spend our money elsewhere. In other words it is a political decision rather than an economic one.
“The government could therefore increase spending on the NHS; it has simply chosen not to just as it has made a conscious decision to hold down pay,” she told delegates.
The RCM chief executive went on to say that the offer put forward by the government, which would see only some midwives receive a pay increase, was “deeply divisive” and would “hit newly qualified and younger staff particularly hard”.
She said that while Scotland had agreed to the 1% rise, the union would fight just as hard as it had in England to try to secure the blanket pay increase in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Professor Warwick argued there were opportunities for midwives to contribute to NHS efficiency savings through strategies such as reconfiguring services and prioritising public health, but that this required investment in staff rather than pay restraint.
She added that, considering the commitment required by midwives to help transform NHS services, it was “appalling that you are left with no alternative but to take industrial action”.
“This is about more than a single pay award. It is primarily about feeling demoralised, and tired, and frustrated when all you want to do is give of your best to women and families and develop services to ensure care is optimum,” she said.
Last month, RCM members went on strike for the first time in the union’s 133-year history in response to the pay dispute.
They have voted for a second day of strike action on 24 November, which will take place alongside 10 other trade unions representing NHS workers.