Published: Monday 24th November 2014 by The News Editor
Picket lines will be mounted outside hospitals today as hundreds of thousands of health workers including midwives, nurses, radiographers, cleaners and psychiatric staff stage a fresh strike in a bitter row with the Government over pay.
Members of 11 unions will walk out for four hours from 7am in England and 8am in Northern Ireland in protest at the coalition’s controversial decision not to accept a recommended 1% wage rise for all NHS employees.
Unison leader Dave Prentis said the strike, the second in a month, should “sound alarm bells ringing” in Westminster because of the anger of such dedicated workers.
Unions have struck deals with the administrations in Scotland and Wales, increasing their anger at Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who they accuse of refusing to discuss the long-running row. The minister has erected a “Berlin wall of intransigence”, the unions said.
Mr Prentis said: “The fact almost all health unions are taking part in the industrial action should ring alarm bells in Whitehall.
“The anger is spreading and so is the public support for health workers’ cause. The strength of feeling is far from fading and the dispute far from going away.
“All the Government has done so far is threaten workers with job cuts.
“If the Secretary of State seriously thinks staff are the NHS’s best asset then he needs to treat them fairly.
“We are only asking for decent pay for the hard-working people the Government say they care so much about.
“There will be plenty of opportunities for Jeremy Hunt to go in trusts around the country to meet with staff who will be working to rule, taking away the goodwill the NHS relies on so much.
“NHS workers in Scotland and Wales will all be getting a 1% pay rise and the Living Wage. So why is the Secretary of State so determined to penalise workers in England?
“The Government and NHS employers need to engage in meaningful talks about how to resolve this dispute. We are prepared to keep up the pressure through the winter and up until the general election.”
By the end of the next financial year, health workers will have had their pay capped for six years, said the TUC.
General Secretary Frances O’Grady will join Mr Prentis on a picket line at the London Ambulance Service headquarters in Waterloo as a show of support for health workers taking part in the pay protest.
She said: “Health workers care passionately about their patients and the quality of service they provide, and so are always reluctant to take action.
“But the Government’s refusal to accept the recommendations of NHS independent pay review body – even though it only called for an affordable, below-inflation pay rise – leaves health workers feeling that they have no other option.
“It’s not too late for the Government to change course and award health workers the pay rise the public knows they deserve.”
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “I was overwhelmed by the response of our members to the previous industrial action and I urge them to respond equally next week.
“I am also very heartened to see that public support for a 1% award for NHS staff has remained high since that industrial action, so we know the public are behind us.
“This is not about our members demanding huge banker-sized bonuses or asking for the similarly large bonuses and pay increases given to many senior managers in the NHS.
“It is about our members having to fight just to get the very modest 1% pay award recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body.
“It is also an award which still lags way behind the rising cost of living and will see our members earning the same in 2016 as they did in 2013.
“As before, in every area our local representatives have worked with hospitals to ensure safe services will be available to women in need of urgent care, such as those in labour.
“Our dispute is not with the women for whom midwives care, it is with employers telling midwives they are not worth a 1% pay rise.”
GMB national officer Rehana Azam said: “We regret having to inconvenience NHS users again, but the intransigence of the Government and employers leaves us no choice.
“We are open to talks but the Health Secretary still refuses to meet the unions. This is not the way to go about dispute resolution.
“We’ve managed to get a settlement in Wales in part because the Welsh Government was prepared to enter into dialogue. Jeremy Hunt needs to get round the table and make more money available for a settlement.
“This dispute arose when the Government overruled the independent NHS Pay Review Body, which had recommended an across-the-board pay rise. Health workers have already endured several years of pay freezes and caps.
“They are understandably angry and frustrated at the cavalier way they have been treated.
“The planned action will undoubtedly cause widespread disruption to NHS services.
“However, we have sent formal notification of this action to all affected NHS employers so that they can work out essential cover requirements to ensure patient safety.”
More than 400,000 workers will join the strike, including 300,000 in Unison, which will be followed by a work to rule for the rest of the week.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset and we want to make the current pay system fairer.
“We have taken tough decisions to increase the NHS budget but we can’t afford a consolidated pay rise in addition to increments without risking 10,000 frontline jobs.”
An NHS England spokeswoman said: “NHS organisations have tried and tested plans to deal with a range of disruptions including industrial action.
“We are working with the NHS to ensure there are robust plans for November 24 that protect the safety, welfare and service provided to patients.”
The Metropolitan Police will help the London Ambulance Service with its contingency plans for dealing with the industrial action.
Around 150 police officers will drive or help crew ambulances in the capital.
Commander Peter Terry, head of the police operation, said: “The Met is often called upon to offer help to people of London, and this is one of those times. We ask for support from the public.”
Published: Monday 24th November 2014 by The News Editor