Goodwill does not pay the bills, Mr Osborne

Monday October 13 2014 will go down in history as the first time Royal College of Midwives (RCM) members went on strike. As both the chief executive and a member myself, I have never been prouder of the RCM and every single member. We were loud, we were bright, we were colourful and we made our voices heard.

Of course industrial action will always be a last resort for the RCM, and it was with a heavy heart that RCM members voted for and took action. We would never ask midwives to take action unless it was necessary, but we believe that if we all stand together and say enough is enough, we have the best chance of getting a better deal.

I don’t think I have the words to fully describe just how overwhelmingly memorable a day it was. I’m sure midwives and maternity support workers will never forget their experience.

I have loved seeing all the pictures of midwives and maternity support workers on the picket line, particularly RCM members smiling and cheering even though it was pouring with rain, nothing was going to dampen their spirits. If you haven’t seen the photos I recommend you look at our Facebook page, they are spectacular.

The one thing the photos cannot do is relay the sounds. There was cheering, chanting and singing, but most of all there were car horns beeping and beeping and beeping. The public are well and truly on our side. They know the feeling of mounting bills. They can see midwives love their jobs. They recognise what a waste it is to have talented midwives leave the NHS because they can no longer afford to work as a midwife. They know what NHS staff are worth.

I want to say a massive thank you to all the members who maintained essential services. On the day our ballot result was announced, we sent extensive guidance to our Workplace Reps who did an outstanding job in implementing the guidance to ensure we maintained a safe service. We shared the guidance with managers and employers and we have proved that NHS staff can mount effective industrial action and maintain safety.

For those that didn’t get to take part in the action on Monday, we have been taking further action this week which will continue until a minute to midnight on Friday. We are asking RCM members working in the NHS in England to take all the breaks they are entitled to, and to only work overtime if it is agreed that they will be paid for it.

Maternity services are currently being run on goodwill. Full time NHS staff only have to work 13 hours of overtime to earn the equivalent of 1 per cent of their salary – just an extra 13 hours in a whole year, that’s it. Most NHS staff will work extra hours unpaid, and most will do 13 hours extra in a month, let alone a year. Our further action this week will show that goodwill is worth so much more than 1 per cent. As many RCM members said on the picket line on Monday, goodwill doesn’t pay the bills.

In terms of next steps, our campaign will continue till we get fair pay. We have lots of other campaigning activities planned, including taking part in the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise march on Saturday October 18. You can join us on Saturday, just look out for the big RCM balloon!

If we need to take action again, we will. Whatever action we do take I would like to reiterate that the safety of women and their babies is our priority.  So, I am urging the government and employers to come and negotiate with us. They can surely see that we are determined that midwives, maternity support workers and all NHS staff are valued and given fair pay.

I have never been prouder of the RCM. I truly believe that Monday October 13 will not only be the day we made history, it will be our finest hour.


About the author

Cathy Warwick is chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives