General secretary Janet Davies defends the RCN's dual role

The new chief executive said the issue of the RCN's dual role as a professional body and a trade union has been frequently raised to her during her first month in the job. 

New RCN general secretary and chief executive Janet Davies has defended the royal college’s dual role as a professional body and a trade union.

Janet Davies

Ms Davies said she has been asked a lot about the issue in her first month in the job and added: ‘The implication is that being a trade union weakens our professional voice and makes us too self-interested, suggesting that other professional organisations aren’t.

‘Perhaps some perceive trade unions as obstructive organisations, concerned only with protecting the interests of their members. But trade unions have a strong history of improving health and safety, improving workers’ rights and facilitating positive partnership working.’

In his report into the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry, Sir Robert Francis recommended the RCN formally divide its dual function to create a professional organisation and a separate trade union, to avoid a conflict of interest.

The government backed the recommendation but in its response to the Francis report, the RCN said its functions complemented each other.

The issue was recently raised by Nursing Standard readers on its letters page.

Ainna Fawcett-Henesy argued that ‘an organisation that seems primarily concerned with shouting for more money risks reducing the respect accorded to its professional views’, asking whether nursing leaders are seen as ‘a drag on change rather than a catalyst’.

Michael Owen suggested that because medical colleagues balance professional and trade union roles they don’t have nurses’ problems over pay and conditions.

Ms Davies said she also plans to voice her concerns about the proposed Trade Union Bill to MPs.

She said the bill will give more power to employers in ‘an already unequal relationship’, restricting the time representatives can devote to union work and making it harder to ballot on industrial action.

She added: ‘I’m proud of the work the RCN does and I believe our dual role as a trade union and professional nursing organisation benefits members and patients.’

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