Unions representing nurses and workers from every part of the health service have warned they could stage coordinated industrial action if agreement cannot be reached on the future of the NHS pension scheme.
The Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, Unison and Unite have all signed up to the unions’ Pension Campaign Group, along with the doctors’ union the British Medical Association and Managers in Partnership, which represents healthcare managers.
In a statement released following a summit attended by representatives from 13 unions yesterday the unions said they remained “committed” to the ongoing pension negotiations with the government but warned ministers not to set “unrealistic timetables or ultimatums”.
The statement continued: “One of the clear aims of the campaign group is to ensure that patient safety remains paramount. The group will look at all issues relating to the pensions negotiations, including the possibility of industrial action in the event that the talks fail to make progress.”
The government is proposing increasing NHS pension contributions by an average of 3.2% over three years, starting in 2012. Although full time staff earning less than £15,000 would not see any increase, a nurse earning between £21,176 and £26,557 would see an increase of 1.6% and someone earning between £25,557 and £48,982 would see an increase of almost 3%.
The government has set a deadline of the end of October for concluding negotiations.
Unions claim this is unrealistic and fear it indicates the government is not prepared to compromise.
They also argue it is impossible for their members to make a judgment about whether to accept the government’s proposal without knowing the outcome of a separate consultation on the retirement age and the future of final salary pension schemes which is still ongoing.
The campaign will initially focus on making the case to the public about why NHS pensions should be protected in order to increase public pressure on the government. However, behind the scenes unions will examine how patients can be protected in the event of industrial action and what the legal and regulatory issues are for staff, particularly nurses.
RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin told Nursing Times “The campaign will be unique and historic in that all NHS trade unions are joined up behind it.
“We are committed to the negotiations as beig the best way of secrruing a good outcome for our members but patient care is at the heart of our discussions about what to do should negotiations break down.”