Nurses could effectively employ work to rule style tactics in their fight against cuts in order to bypass lengthy legal hoops for industrial action, the Royal College of Nursing’s leader has suggested.
The RCN chief executive and general secretary spoke following a speech to the union’s 2011 congress, in which he said that “never before” had so many nurses spoken to him about industrial action and that “all avenues must remain open”.
“It’s a long way to go before industrial action, but it would be disingenuous of me not to have reflected to congress what people are saying to me,” he told a press conference.
However he suggested nurses could make lives tough for trusts by sticking to the exact terms of their contracts – backed by the support of the union if employers tried to enforce additional work.
Mr Carter said: “Some of the issues we’ve talked about are [nurses] just working their contracted hours. Independent surveys demonstrate that most nurses work the equivalent of an extra shift a week. It’s not staying on after work to do the paperwork. It’s about demanding meal breaks, and us persisting in our endeavours in taking on grievances [for nurses].”
Asked how quickly the union could take official action if the move was backed by members, he said: “If there’s a move for this, we have to work through our regional networks. We would have to devise a strategy, and then there’s a whole legal framework that we would have to go through.
“Whereas, if you take something like people simply saying something like, ‘well I’m entitled to a meal break, so I’m going to get it,’ sometimes that’s a more effective strategy.
“Rather than going into industrial action, [taking your meal break is] what you should be doing. And if trusts are preventing people from taking their meal breaks it’s about us going into dispute with them. And that could really hurt trusts.”
The purpose of this tactic would be “about upping the pressure” on trusts which were trying to save money by cutting staff and demanding the same amount of work, he said.
Mr Carter insisted the appetite for industrial action he had seen among some nurses was “not about pay”. “The vast majority of our members have come to terms with the two year pay freeze, it’s about seeing services cut,” he said.
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