Nurses’ reluctance to strike tied our hands, says RCN chief pay negotiator

Negotiators felt unable to pressurise government into offering nurses better pay deal because they believed members would not agree to industrial action

Josie Irwin addresses congress. Picture: John Houlihan

Union negotiators felt they could not pressurise the government for a bigger pay rise for nurses because they believed members were unlikely to take industrial action, RCN chief pay negotiator Josie Irwin revealed.

She said that at the outset of negotiations the government had wanted to remove two days' annual leave, an hour of unsocial pay and move to performance-related pay before agreeing any boost to nursing salaries.

Ms Irwin, RCN associate director of employment relations, revealed the government demands at a fringe event at congress in Belfast.

Productivity targets rejected

She said the government had wanted NHS nurses to move towards a similar pay system as the civil service, with pay rises linked to productivity targets.

The unions roundly rejected this, Ms Irwin said, and pushed for removal of those demands, securing a pay rise and reducing the time taken to reach the top of a pay band.

Earlier, during a debate in the conference hall, it had been suggested that unions could have pushed harder to achieve a better deal than has been offered by a ‘weak government divided over Brexit’.

‘Limits to what we can achieve’

But Ms Irwin told Nursing Standard the unwillingness of members to take industrial action left her hands tied. She said members had already refused to push to be paid for the extra hours they work when staying behind after shifts to ensure patients’ care.

Ms Irwin said the RCN's Scrap the Cap campaign had been excellent, but ‘there are limits to what we can achieve through just demonstrating outside parliament’.

Besides, she said, industrial action would not guarantee a better outcome, but would ‘leave a bitter taste’. ‘It is always better to get a negotiated settlement,’ she said.

Progression through pay bands

Concerns raised during a congress debate that automatic progression through pay bands had been removed in the negotiations were dismissed. Ms Irwin told the fringe event audience that automatic progression had been lost in England in 2013.

RCN UK stewards committee chair Graham Revie said managers would have conversations with nurses to ensure competence before progression up the increments or bands, and said the RCN had an excellent record in ensuring progression where it had been wrongly refused.

Concerns were also raised from the floor over nurses not being in the correct band for their work, and Ms Irwin said it would now be an RCN priority to ensure members’ pay matched their job descriptions.

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