Midwives are going on strike. Sorry babies, back inside you go. I know you’re ready to emerge from the womb and take your first breaths of air marking the start of your lifelong journey in the outside world, but that’s officially a picket line you’re trying to cross. Did you just rupture that amniotic membrane? Scab! Scab!
Yeah, so, that’s kinda obvious and has all been done. But there’s some serious bullshit going on here which has driven tens of thousands of medical professionals to vote massively in favour of industrial action in a recent ballot. It’s clearly something they don’t do lightly, since in the case of the Royal College of Midwives it’s literally never happened before, and the last NHS strike due to issues with their pay was over thirty years ago.
Frankly, I’m a little alarmed by the levels of patience and professionalism that midwives, nurses, paramedics, and others appear to have consistently shown about this. I’ll let the Chief Executive of the RCM explain why something’s finally being done now:
Each year, the independent NHS Pay Review Body (the PRB) takes evidence from the government, employers, trade unions and others about how much staff in the NHS should be paid, and based on all that it makes a recommendation. It takes a range of factors into account, including what’s affordable. This system takes the setting of pay out of the hands of politicians, and places it in the hands of independent experts. Every year since the PRB was founded in the early 80s, its recommendation has been accepted. Some years the government and employers grumbled that the pay rise was too high. Some years the unions grumbled that it was too low. But every year it was accepted by all sides. This year, that fair, independent, long-established way of doing things was ripped up when the government took the unilateral decision, now being implemented by employers in the NHS in England, not to honour the PRB’s recommendation of a 1% across-the-board rise in NHS staff pay.
Midwives’ pay was frozen for a couple of years recently, before rising 1% last year. Due to an obscure economic phenomenon called “inflation”, though, what this actually means is that everybody in this job took a real-terms pay cut, and then another, and then another. This year, they were expecting to take another, and this would have been considered acceptable, because it was the formal recommendation of an independent body.
Which still sounds like magnanimity taken to a frankly foolhardy extent in my book, but apparently the government weren’t happy even with this, and are planning to cut healthcare workers’ wages even more than they were already going to. Because austerity. Times are tough. We’re all in it together.
This is the same government, by the way, which doesn’t seem to be worried about finding the funds for a new high-speed rail line, a 9% pay-hike for its own members (taking their basic salary to £74,000, before expenses), and FUCKING TRIDENT.
But no, efforts to make sure women don’t die while they give birth to children is totally where we should squeeze financially. Some of those midwives start on nearly £25,000 a year, you know.
Way more of the public want to see NHS workers get the 1% pay increase they’re asking for – which, remember, is a real-terms pay cut – than wanted to elect this government that’s trying to slash their pay even further. Way more.
I don’t have time tonight to get into my whole other rant about the weirdness of “working to rule” as a form of industrial action, but I have to highlight the latter half of this statistic from the RCM ballot, quoted by Cathy Warwick in that article I linked to earlier:
82% voted in favour of strike action, with 94% voting in favour of taking action short of a strike (for example, refusing to work overtime unless paid for it).
94% voted in favour of “refusing to work overtime unless paid for it”.
Take a room full of 16 midwives facing a pay cut for the fourth consecutive year. Statistically, one of them wants to keep on working without being paid so as not to cause a fuss.
Not even sure how to start thinking about that one.
Give medical professionals some decent fucking money for saving all your lives all the time.