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Nurses in England and Wales mull strike action

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-10 09:10

Government has left us with no choice, union says after refusing pay rise offer

National Health Service, or NHS, nurses across England and Wales are to vote next month over whether to take industrial action, with the union that represents around 465,000 of them, the Royal College of Nursing, or RCN, backing the proposal for what would be its members' first ever strike.

The RCN's membership is made up of registered nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants. The Daily Mail reported the RCN called for a 16 percent pay rise last month for all NHS workers, which was 5 percent higher than the union's estimated inflation rate at the time, as opposed to the 5 percent approved by the government last month for 2.5 million public sector workers, which the RCN says is effectively a real-term reduction in pay.

Nurses in Northern Ireland are awaiting their pay offer and nurses in Scotland have received a separate pay offer from the Scottish government, which the RCN has recommended that its members reject.

The RCN's proposal in England and Wales has been backed by doctors' union the British Medical Association, or BMA, and RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said her members had been left with no alternative.

"Staff shortages are putting patient safety at risk and the government's failure to listen has left us with no choice but to advocate for strike action," she said.

"A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty. Ministers' refusal to recognize the skill and responsibility of the job is pushing people out of the profession."

Philip Banfield, chair of the BMA council, gave his backing to the strike threat. "This ballot is a clear warning to the government that staff have had enough of not being listened to or valued," he said.

Voting on the possible strike begins on Sept 15, with all members who are eligible having four weeks to reply.

The RCN has urged members to ensure their contact details are up to date, to ensure as many as possible can take part in the vote, and says it has put aside 50 million pounds ($60.5 million) in support funds for any members who might lose income during potential strike action.

"Your vote in the upcoming ballot will be essential to turning the tide on low pay," RCN council chair Carol Popplestone has told members.

"This year's pay award does not help you with the rising cost of living. It will do nothing to help to recruit or retain more nursing staff where you work and will not keep patients safe."

A spokesperson for the Department for Health said "very high inflation-driven settlements would have a worse impact on pay packets in the long run than proportionate and balanced increases now".

"Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts."

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