by Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive, Royal College of Midwives
This is not a step that we or our members have taken lightly. It is a decision that they have taken with a heavy heart but one that they felt they needed to. The overwhelming yes vote in our ballot shows the level of frustration among our members.
RCM members will be taking industrial action as a protest against the rejection of a 1% uplift to NHS pay. Midwives have seen three years of pay restraint and are now facing another two. If the planned pay restraint goes ahead, in 2016 midwives’ pay will have only increased by 1% since 2010. NHS staff have lost out and now face another year of working out whether there is anything left to cut from their household budget.
NHS maternity services in England have been struggling for years to cope with a deep and enduring shortage of midwives. Staff have had to work flat out, often staying late and working large amounts of unpaid overtime, as they try their hardest to give women the best possible care they can. After years of stress, pressure and overwork, being told they face another year of rising bills but static pay is just too much. They have said enough’s enough.
Please be reassured that the safety of women and their babies will always come first with midwives. On the 13th October some of our members will stop working for four hours from 7am to 11am, however, some will continue to go to work to cover essential services. It is intended that the service that is provided will be similar to the service on a bank holiday.
The RCM’s representatives will be working with trusts to ensure that contingency plans are put in place so that essential services continue. The care, support and dedication to their job that we know women receive from their midwives will continue. Midwives will not break their NMC Code of Conduct.
There will also be further industrial action starting Tuesday 14th October to Friday 17th October, when RCM members will not work any unpaid overtime and will take any break they are entitled to. This action will highlight the fact that maternity services often operate on the goodwill of midwives and maternity support workers.
We have calculated that just 13 hours overtime is the equivalent of a 1% pay rise. Many midwives work on average at least two hours unpaid overtime per week. Often they work much more. The goodwill that midwives give to the NHS is worth far more than the 1% increase. This action highlights how unreasonable and short-sighted their position is.
The independent NHS Pay Review Body recommended a 1% uplift for NHS staff as they said this was affordable. Their report said they were not persuaded that the short-term financial advantage to be gained from a non-consolidated award would outweigh the adverse impact on staff engagement and motivation. They also said that the net cost of incremental progression was only 0.6% (not the 2% that the Government claim) and they do not consider this to be a costly system as new staff recruited at the bottom of the scales mostly replace staff at the top.
An RCM poll showed that a majority of the public support a 1% pay increase for NHS staff and industrial action by midwives, provided arrangements are made to ensure that any pregnant woman in need of immediate care continues to receive it during any action, which they will.
All RCM members are asking for is the 1% pay uplift as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body; an above inflation pay rise for 2015-16; and a commitment to future pay rises that will restore the value of NHS pay. We believe that if midwives stand together throughout our campaign and action we have the best chance of getting a better deal for NHS staff.