Members pass vote of no confidence in RCN council

Motion calls for council to stand down over handling of England pay deal

Motion calls for council to stand down over handling of England pay deal

RCN council today lost a vote of no confidence at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) called over the union’s handling of the NHS pay deal in England.

The motion calling for RCN council to stand down was passed at the meeting in Birmingham, backed by 78.1% of members who voted. Council will meet next week to discuss its next steps. 

The turnout represented 3.47% of the RCN’s membership; 11,156 members voted in favour of the motion, 3,124 against and 1,112 abstained.

The EGM took place a day after the release of a damning independent report into the college’s handling and communication of the three-year pay deal.

RCN chair of council Maria Trewern.
Picture: John Houlihan

College can move on

Speaking after the result, chair of council Maria Trewern said she hoped the college could now move on, following what at times had been a difficult discussion.

‘Today’s honest and open debate has cleared the air,’ she said. ‘And I hope the college will emerge stronger as a result.’

Ms Trewern said RCN council will now enter a transition period, with an urgent meeting scheduled for next week to discuss its next steps.

The EGM was called in response to a petition, signed by more than 1,000 members amid controversy over the college’s communication of the NHS pay deal in England.

‘A clear plan and timeframe’

The proposer of the motion, inner north east London branch member Danielle Tiplady said the result ‘showed members are going to take control of their union’.

‘We managed to turn out 11,000 people [to vote in favour of the motion] when the pay campaign only turned out 39,000. This shows what members can do when we work together to try to achieve a common goal.

‘Council need to give us a clear plan next week on how they will stand down, a timeframe and process for doing that. Members have voted on this and it needs to be acted on.’

Letter sent to Scottish branches

During the meeting, RCN acting general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair was questioned about a letter sent by RCN council to Scottish branches, warning that the EGM represented a threat to the college.

Professor Kinnair told the meeting the college had identified a further 600 names on the original petition that were not members, but who had ‘political’ motivations.

‘I felt there was a faction that was trying to infiltrate and therefore we felt it appropriate to bring it to the attention of our members,’ she said.

‘We are a non-political organisation and some of us wish to remain so, and I’m not going to apologise for that.’

‘Politics has nothing to do with it’

The comments prompted angry outbursts from some at the meeting, but Professor Kinnair declined to reveal any further information, apart from one reference to activists being from London.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Tiplady said: ‘In the hall, bringing party politics into it was a mistake. My politics have nothing to do with it. But what matters is my fellow members and fighting together for nursing.’

During the meeting, Ms Tiplady urged members not to lose sight of the college’s miscommunication over the pay deal.

‘One nurse told me she relied on the information sent to her by the RCN on what the deal meant – in July she would be able to buy her son’s sports kit,’ she said. ‘Furious and betrayed on her pay day, she found out that she had a very small amount.’

College ‘capitulated’

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater gave a damning assessment of the independent report into the union’s handling of the pay deal negotiation.

He said the Electoral Reform Service report demonstrated the college had ‘capitulated’ to a government demand to sell the pay deal. ‘Why on earth would our trade union do [former health secretary] Jeremy Hunt’s dirty work for him?’ he asked.

RCN England director Tom Sandford ruled out the suggestion of reopening pay deal negotiations. ‘We don’t think the pay deal could be reopened because we think the other trade unions involved in negotiating the deal would not cooperate,’ he said.

When asked about the absence from the meeting of the RCN’s lead pay negotiator Josie Irwin, Professor Kinnair said she had made the decision that she should not attend the EGM as a ‘duty of care’, following a series of comments made about Ms Irwin on social media.

RCN trade union committee member
Mike Travis. Picture: Neil O’Connor

Members’ reactions to the vote

RCN trade union committee member and children’s nurse Mike Travis, pictured right:

‘I don’t think RCN council members need to resign. I think the council has listened now and are going to have to react and re-plan.

‘At the end of the day, the RCN needs a governing council just to function. We will not get a new chief executive unless we have a stable council in place. To deselect and have all these elections again means there is a good chance you won’t get a council until February.’

Oxfordshire branch member Jeremy Benton:

‘It’s not a cause for celebration that it has come to this, that the only remaining way for the membership to express their dissatisfaction is to call for a vote of no confidence in council, so I am not celebrating that we have to do this.

‘Whichever way the vote went today, it was a turning point for the RCN. And I think having the vote go the way of no confidence is actually a more positive outcome than if the status quo had remained.’

Southampton and Isle of Wight branch member and student nurse Tom Tierney:

‘I don’t think 3.4% is an accurate representation of the membership. I think change is needed, but in some cases the debate today was more personal than it needed to be.

‘I think people should look at the importance of the work council put in. It’s very easy to see when things go wrong, but it’s not always clear when things go right.

‘Council do not need to step down, they should be given time to give a plan to suggest changes and then come back.’

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