This Monday, on the first day of my hospital placement, I joined the picket line from 7-11am to highlight the need for fair pay for NHS staff. The industrial action then continues for the rest of this week, as NHS staff will be working to rule, which means taking all allocated breaks and not doing any unpaid overtime.
This week of action is in protest of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to grant a 1% pay rise to NHS staff as advised by an independent pay review, meaning that staff pay is essentially falling when inflation is taken into account. There is more background information in this guardian article if you haven’t heard much about it – I feel like it’s been massively under-reported.
This strike followed on from the initial strike on the 13th October 2015, which was the first time since its inception 133 years ago that the Royal College of Midwives voted in favour of strike action. This has been framed by the press as a sign that things must be bad, if even the moderate midwives who consider their job a true vocation, are striking. I have never considered myself, or the other radical midwives I know as “moderate”, but perhaps we are an unrepresentative sample!
I joined the picket line as a student member of one of the main unions, not only because any pay rise that is won following this industrial action will benefit me once I qualify, but because to cross the picket line felt too much like undermining the action my fellow workers – both symbolically, and literally as the presence of students providing extra pairs of hands to help out and diminishes the impact of the four hour strike.
My placement was in a non-essential service (unions negotiate with health trusts to establish which services are deemed essential, to ensure for example that ambulances can answer emergency 999 calls and that women going into labour are provided with care for themselves and their baby) and students are not included in the minimum numbers needed for areas for the hospital to run safely, so supporting the strike was a realistic option for me. Some will have found themselves unable to strike because they were working in an essential service, but for others in positions similar to me I wonder what it would take to make them strike next time? How can we support each other to make that leap? If all NHS staff in non-essential services went on strike next time, think how much more quickly this pay dispute could be resolved!
The midwives in the photo at the top of the post were my strike buddies for the duration of the picket line, and whilst I don’t imagine any of us relish the thought of another strike, I will give my support to another one – and another one – if that’s what it takes to secure fair pay for NHS staff.