Opinion

Enough is enough: the pay freeze has gone on too long

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On September 29 2014, for the first time in our 133-year history, Royal College of Midwives (RCM) members voted ‘yes’ to take industrial action over pay in the NHS.

This is not a step that the college or our members have taken lightly. It is a decision they have taken with a heavy heart but one that they felt was needed. The overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in our ballot shows the level of frustration among our members. They are saying enough’s enough.

RCM members will be taking industrial action as a protest against the rejection of a 1% uplift to NHS pay. Midwives have seen three years of pay restraint and are now facing another two. If the planned pay restraint goes ahead, in 2016 midwives’ pay will have only increased by 1% since 2010.

If a typical midwife’s pay had risen in line with inflation since 2010 they would today be paid over £4,000 more than they are actually getting. That much money is enough to pay three years’ worth of household energy bills. Midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have lost out and now face another year of working out whether there is anything left to cut from their household budget.

NHS maternity services in England have been struggling for years to cope with a deep and enduring shortage of midwives. Staff have had to work flat out, often staying late and working large amounts of unpaid overtime, as they try their hardest to give women the best possible care they can. After years of stress, pressure and overwork, being told they face another year of rising bills but static pay is just too much. Enough’s enough.

Please be reassured that the safety of women and their babies will always come first with midwives. On the October 13 some of our members will stop working for four hours from 7am to 11am, however, some will continue to go to work to cover essential services. It is intended there the will be a service similar to a bank holiday. The RCM’s representatives will be working with trusts to ensure that contingency plans are in place so that essential services continue. The care, support and dedication to their job that we know women receive from their midwives will continue.

There will also be further industrial action from October 14 to 17. This action will highlight the fact that maternity services often operate on the goodwill of midwives and MSWs, RCM members will not work any unpaid overtime and will take any break they are entitled to.

We have calculated that just 13 hours' overtime is the equivalent of a 1% pay rise. Many midwives work on average at least of two hours’ unpaid overtime per week. Often they work much more. The goodwill that midwives give to the NHS is worth far more than the 1% increase. This action could cost the employers more money which highlights how unreasonable and short-sighted their position is.

And at the end of our first ever week of industrial action we will be taking part in the TUC march and rally ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ in London on October 18 October. It will be a historic week for the Royal College of Midwives, and we would love as many members as possible to join us. You can find out more information on our website

All midwives are asking for is fair pay after years of pay restraint. A poll by the Royal College of Midwives showed that a majority of the public support a 1% pay increase for NHS staff and industrial action by midwives, provided arrangements are made to ensure that any pregnant woman in need of immediate care continues to receive it during any action, which they will.

All that RCM members are asking for is the 1% pay uplift as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body; an above inflation pay rise for 2015-16; and a commitment to future pay rises that will restore the value of NHS pay. We believe that if midwives stand together throughout our campaign and action we have the best chance of getting a better deal for NHS staff.

About the author

Cathy Warwick is chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives