Nursing unions call for clarity in light of junior doctor contract dispute

The contracts, pay and working hours of nurses are being scutinised by unions in the fall out over changes to junior doctor pay

A ballot for industrial action by junior doctors angry at changes to their contracts has sparked a call by nursing unions for clarity on their own members' pay and working hours.

Today, The British Medical Association (BMA) signalled it was willing to consider strike action for the first time since 2012 – and the first time ever solely involving junior doctors.

The row is over the threat by the government to forcibly introduce new contracts in England from August next year, which the BMA says would mean:

  • Normal working hours re-classed as being from 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday.
  • A reduction in breaks and no system for preventing unsafe hours or extra pay for overrunning shifts.
  • Replacing annual pay progression with pay linked to stage of training.

Working so-called ‘unsociable hours’ have been a standard practice for many nurses as they seek to boost their pay packets in light of increased pension costs and being subject to a 1% cap on pay rises.

An attempt by health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ward off the threat in the form of an 11% salary hike failed as doctors claim it will not compensate for the 25% reduction in unsociable hours charges.

However, the fact Mr Hunt was willing to make such changes has raised questions among Unite and Unison, which both represent nurses working in the NHS.

Unite’s national officer for health Barrie Brown said: ‘We will be asking "does this mean that savings on unsocial hours could be transferred to members’ pay in the same way?"'

Unite is backing the junior doctors’ pay dispute because it does not want similar cuts to hours defined as unsocial. ‘For nurses and midwives, unsocial hours are the whole of the weekend and we want this maintained,’ said Mr Brown.

Unions are due to submit evidence to the government’s Pay Review Body next month and Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said the issue was certain to be raised then.

She added: ‘With the government intent on keeping a tight rein on NHS pay, health workers have been opting to work nights and weekends, so they have enough cash to get through each month.

‘They see the government coming for their unsocial hours’ payments and tax credits. As a result, many are opting for better paid agency work while others feel they will soon have no choice but to leave the NHS.’

Chair of the BMA’s junior doctor committee, Johann Malawann, said: ‘This is not a decision we take lightly. However, the government’s refusal to work with us through genuine negotiations, and its continued threat to impose an unsafe and unfair contract, leaves us with no alternative.’

The ballot closes on Wednesday, November 18.

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