Covid Scotland: Nursing staff back industrial action over pay

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Almost 90 per cent of nursing staff who responded to an indicative ballot have backed industrial action over a pay dispute with the Scottish Government.

Almost six in ten (58 per cent) of respondents said they would be prepared to stop all work in strike action, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union has said.

A total of 89.5 per cent said they would take part in industrial action short of strike action, which could include taking allocated breaks, refusing to work over time, and strictly observing shift start and end times.

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The RCN will use these results to consider next steps, union representatives said.

NHS staff at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital participate in the Clap for Carers and key workers. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesNHS staff at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital participate in the Clap for Carers and key workers. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
NHS staff at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital participate in the Clap for Carers and key workers. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A statutory industrial action ballot would be required before any industrial action could take place. But the survey results are almost certain to fuel fears over the health system's ability to cope with what ministers have been warned will be "the most challenging winter the NHS has ever faced".

The indicative ballot was launched after the RCN rejected a pay offer from the Scottish Government earlier this year.

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Around 30 per cent of eligible members responded, which the union said was a higher than expected engagement rate.

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The RCN has about 40,000 members in Scotland. It is understood up to 10,000 nursing staff supported industrial action, while around two thirds of that number backed a possible strike.

RCN members include nurses and other nursing support workers.

Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland Board, said: “The thought of taking industrial action does not sit well with nursing staff. So the response from members to our indicative ballot demonstrates how difficult things are within the NHS. 

"The Scottish Government must act now to protect patient safety and ensure we can retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs.” 

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Graham Revie, chair of the RCN Trade Union Committee said: “The years of being under-valued have taken their toll and the pressure of the pandemic has left many considering their future in the profession. 

"The link between low pay, staff shortages and patient safety is clear. We will now be considering our next steps in our campaigns to achieve staffing for safe and effective care and fair pay for nursing.”

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the vote should “shame” the government.

“The overwhelming demand for action shows just how badly nurses have been treated,” she said.

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“It is a disgrace that they have been pushed to this unprecedented measure in the aftermath of their heroic efforts during the pandemic.

“Nobody wants to strike, but applause doesn’t pay bills.

“The SNP must give nurses the fair deal they deserve so we can avoid the need for industrial action.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “The fact that nurses are set to strike should set alarm bells ringing among the SNP Government.

“Nurses have gone above and beyond during the pandemic and it is clear they are now past breaking point.

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“SNP ministers have failed time and time again to fully give our frontline nurses the resources they require to deliver the care patients need – as the record number of vacancies indicates.

“Nurses voting for strike action is endemic of the crisis engulfing our NHS on [health secretary] Humza Yousaf’s watch. He must urgently intervene to ensure this action does not go ahead.”

The Scottish Government said NHS Scotland nurses are the best paid in the UK and the pay deal on offer is the largest pay rise in 20 years and the best deal on offer across the UK.

A spokesperson said: “Nurses, and all our NHS staff, work hard to provide vital services to the people of Scotland.

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"That’s why we delivered a pay rise to NHS agenda for change staff of 4 per cent on average, with everyone up to band seven getting an increase of at least £1,000. Our nurses are the best paid in the UK.

“We note that the majority of RCN members did not vote for strike action. We look forward to continuing to work with the RCN and other health unions to ensure that staff feel well rewarded, valued and supported.”

The spokesperson said that for a newly qualified registered nurse, at the start of band five, the uplift would mean a pay increase of over £1,000 a year, while for an experienced nurse at the top of band five this would be £1,266 a year.

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