Nurses vote for strike action in new year in Scotland as dates to be announced in early 2023
Some 82 per cent of RCN Scotland’s members turned down what was described by the Government as its “best and final” offer, paving the way for industrial action as early as next month.
Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland board, said its members had shown “enough is enough”, and announced that “thorough” planning for strike action – the first in the union’s history – was now underway. It will announce potential dates in early 2023.
The rejection represents the latest major blow for the Government as it seeks to prevent industrial action across the NHS at a time when it is already under intense pressure during the winter months. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon intervened in the negotiations, with Humza Yousaf, the health secretary, insisting the Government had made “the best offer possible” with the unprecedented deal.
But it was not enough to convince nurses to accept what was on the table, which would amount to an average pay rise of about 7.5 per cent. That offer, which applied to staff on Agenda for Change contracts, including nurses, paramedics, and allied health professionals, has also been rejected by other NHS employees.
Earlier on Wednesday, nearly two thirds of members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) decided to turn down the deal, with the union describing the rejection as “resounding”. Its board is now set to meet to decide on its next steps, including industrial action.
Mr Yousaf said he was “disappointed” at the results of both votes. He said given “meaningful dialogue” had avoided strikes so far, he would continue his engagement and meet with unions on Thursday. “We’ll leave no stone unturned to ensure we avoid strikes this winter,” he said.
RCN Scotland made no recommendation on how its 30,000 NHS members in Scotland should vote. The same deal was accepted by Unison and Unite members earlier this month. However, the GMB union became the first to reject it last week.
Announcing the results of the consultative ballot, which closed at midday on Monday, Ms Lamberth said: “The result could not be clearer – we have forcefully rejected what the Scottish Government said is its ‘best and final’ offer.
“Make no mistake – we do not want to go on strike. Years of being undervalued and understaffed have left us feeling we have no alternative because enough is enough. The ball is in the Scottish Government’s court if strike action is going to be avoided.”
She added: “Members can be reassured that planning for strike action will be thorough. The safety of patients and of our members are paramount and we will be working hard to ensure that while any strike action is disruptive, it does not put patients or our members at risk.”
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: “Under the SNP, Scotland's heroic nursing staff have been pushed to breaking point. We are already in the midst of a full-blown winter crisis, with lives being risked on a daily basis. It's time that Humza Yousaf does the right thing and resigns.”
Calling on Mr Yousaf to “immediately get back round the table”, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, health spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “Scotland's NHS is on its knees due to the health secretary's mismanagement, so the last thing it can afford going into the peak winter period is industrial action.”
Alex Neil, the former SNP MSP and health secretary, said the results of the vote by nurses were “not surprising”, adding: “The Scottish Government now has to make a much more generous and fairer offer to our nurses, who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The RCM said while the deal offered “welcome improvement” for some staff, it did little to improve the take-home pay of the majority of its members in Scotland.
Annual pay rises under the latest deal would vary, ranging from a flat rate payment of £2,205 for staff in Bands 1 to 4 and up to £2,660 for staff in Bands 5 to 7, backdated to April. That would represent an increase of 11.3 per cent for the lowest-paid workers.
The Scottish Government has previously said the pay offer was unprecedented at a time of "extraordinary financial challenges", and would ensure NHS workers in Scotland remain the best paid in the UK.
Jaki Lambert, the RCM’s director for Scotland, said: “Our members have spoken loud and clear – the latest pay offer by the Scottish Government is simply not good enough. It goes nowhere near addressing the rising cost of living and would see many midwives actually worse off in real terms.
"Our maternity services are continuing to face staffing challenges. In many places it’s only the good will and commitment of midwives and their colleagues that keep these services going. Those same midwives and maternity support workers often find themselves working 12-hour shifts with no breaks, and even staying beyond those long shifts, just because there’s no-one to relieve them.”
Ms Lambert said the union has written to Mr Yousaf, and stressed it was not too late for the Government to avert strike action. “We just need to get back around the table,” she explained.
She added: “No midwife wants to do this and it is for the Scottish Government to make sure that they do not feel that they are left with no other option. While we acknowledge that the Scottish Government has listened to some of the concerns regarding career opportunities and development, it has failed to meet our members’ needs on pay.
"If the Scottish Government is as committed to NHS staff as they say they are, they need to offer a much better deal. Warm words are great, but they won’t heat their houses or put food on the table.”
The RCM is part of the Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee (STAC), which negotiates pay deals with the Government. STAC staff will meet with ministers on Thursday to share the outcomes of their respective consultations, the RCM added.
It comes as flu cases in Scotland have reached the highest level for five years. The latest weekly figures from Public Health Scotland (PHS) show there were 1,358 influenza cases in Scotland in the week ending December 18. As a result, it has raised the incidence of influenza from "high" to an "extraordinary" activity level. Nick Phin, director of public health science at PHS, said: "At this point, we don't know whether we've reached the peak or if it will continue, or we'll start to see it dip down."
The hospitalisation rate for influenza has been generally increasing since the middle of the year, PHS added, and is standing at around 7.5 patients per 100,000. The rate is highest for infants aged under one, at 32.9 per 100,000.
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