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RCN will take whatever action is 'merited' over pension threat


The Royal College of Nursing is “not afraid” to take industrial action – including strike action – over the threat to public sector pensions if members call for it, according to the union’s leader.

Chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter told participants in a Nursing Times webchat on Friday that it was “not correct to say the RCN has a ‘no strike policy’”.

He said while the RCN had never taken strike action its rules were changed in 1995 to allow industrial action provided it did not harm patients or clients.

But he said: “The RCN believes that industrial action should only be the last option after all negotiation has been exhausted.”

He said the college would consult with its members once “complex” pension negotiations between health unions and the government had finished. 

Mr Carter said: “Once we have concluded the discussions with the government, we will consult with the members and we will ultimately act in accordance with the members’ wishes. Therefore at this moment in time, nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out.”

He said: “We’re not afraid… The RCN is prepared, in conjunction with the membership, to take whatever action we think is merited.”

Negotiations over the future of public sector pensions are ongoing but tensions between union members and the government appear to be becoming increasingly fractious. Unions representing teachers and civil servants held a strike on 30 June over the issue but health unions did not take action.


Readers' comments (23)

  • This is actually really good to hear and it sounds like he actually listened at the webchat. I have to say I am surprised, but pleasantly so. It is about time too that the RCN and Peter Carter actually came out with a statement like this. I just hope it is not just rhetoric.

    However, there are two points I would like to make, and I hope Peter Carter is reading and takes note. The first is that it is fine to take a stance that "industrial action should only be the last option after all negotiation has been exhausted.” Of course that is right, and remember also that none of us WANT to go on strike, we just view it as the only choice we have left to ensure our voices and demands are heard, and any harm or inconvenience to patients should be squarely put on the shoulders of the government who are forcing us to do this. However, he must remember that negotiation on this ONE issue is almost exhausted already, and it was very telling that Peter Carter was nowhere to be seen when the UNISON spokesman was making his position very clear.

    My second point is that why is he simply fighting for our pensions? This is a very important issue for us of course, but it is only one single issue. Why are you not putting a whole list of our demands down on the table Peter? We have put up with poor pay, unsafe staffing levels and poor working conditions for too long.

    You should be demanding a whole list of measures to be made with immediate effect, not least of which is the immediate ceasing of any and every threat to our pension, increments, and pay. Then we want BETTER pay, considering we have had an effective pay CUT over the last few years already and were already woefully underpaid to begin with, otherwise you will end up with a massive Nursing shortage as people simply will not bother with the profession, then we want the scrapping of all job freezes and a LEGALISED Nurse/patient ratio, the evidence is there to show it is necessary and beneficial, and many other countries have adopted it already, we should not be lagging behind on that, we also want MORE control over the future of the NHS, this GP consortium and token Nurse on the board idea is a nonsense, and we want an equal say that reflects our worth and input, I could go on for a long, long time, but you get my point. Where is our representation on all of these issues, and you should be using the threat of strike action as a tool to get it, because many of your members are not prepared to put up with the situation for much longer.

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  • It's important to note that Peter Carter also made it clear in the webchat that industrial action and strike action aren't necessarily the same thing.

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  • Exactly Gary, well remembered, he was very slippery on that point.

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  • When I look at how the BMA represent their members and the clout they carry at a government level and compare it to how the RCN perform, I cannot accept much of the rhetoric that comes from the RCN senior officers. Actions speak louder than words and given the strength that the sheer numbers of nurses there are should give, then the RCN should be a whole lot more effective than it is.

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  • For decades nurses have implemented every daft notion subsequent Governments have come up with - as the RCN advised.

    But if the Gov. are going to renegade on our pensions - we might want to re-think our helpfulness! Though I do think we can make the greatest point by NOT striking but by doing only that which we are contracted to do - the NHS is run on the good will of its staff and its time we proved this.

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  • Don’t hold your breath, girls and boys for the RCN offering any constructive help or support. I work in a recently privatised service and to be honest the representation, support and advice we received from the RCN - and, to be fair Unison - was absolutely disgusting; the reps and regional officers should be ashamed of how they let the private provider dictate and walk all over us! Many of us have left the RCN in disgust!

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  • I agree if nurses only did what hours they are contracted to do instead of strike it could give the government a wake up call. Many of our qualified staff stay after shift for no extra payment (not that any overtime is offered anyway) to help staff on the next shift. This is never acknowleged by managers or any thanks given only when things are NOT done do we get a response from the management. Yes wards are ran on goodwill and if patients are still sat on beds because staff have not got the time to arrange discharges and liase with social workers we might get noticed.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    "He (Peter Carter) said while the RCN had never taken strike action its rules were changed in 1995 to allow industrial action provided it did not harm patients or clients."

    Provided it did not harm patients, which leaves him in the same invidious position as Shylock. A pound of flesh and not a grain more or less. Also I hate to split hairs but it is not the RcN who will be taking industrial action, we will.

    But he (Peter Carter) said: “The RCN believes that industrial action should only be the last option after all negotiation has been exhausted.”

    Which is more than the NUT did prior to their "day of action. What happened that day by the way did the NUT bring the government to it's knees quaking in fear? No I thought not.

    "Strike action and industrial action are not necessarily the same thing?"

    Splitting hairs here I think. Industrial action, if it is to mean anything at all, amounts to going on strike otherwise what does it consists of? Refusing to return ones tray to the trolley in the staff canteen? Refusing to make the boss a cup of tea?

    @ MIke,
    "None of us WANT to go on strike."

    Who are you kidding? You can't wait to flex your political muscles and lead your comrades onto the barricades in a futile attempt to overthrow the system.

    Your unwillingness to enter into any meaningful talks is betrayed by your statement later in the sentence that negotiation on the subject of pension reform is all but exhausted, so I think it is clear where you are coming from.

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  • Hi Lard Wheel Inn
    Take a moment to check the definition of Industrial Action. You might be surprised that it can, indeed, mean something other than leaving the staff canteen in a mess, fewer cups of tea for the boss, and striking. Having said that, it was Peter Carter that said it not me, so maybe have a chat with him directly.


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  • Lard Wheel Inn (is that you Edwin) I think you need to go away and check your facts a little there.

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