Hundreds of Calderdale health workers went on a four-hour strike today in protest at the Government’s controversial decision not to give them a one per cent pay rise.
A picket line was mounted outside Calderdale Royal Hospital for the strike, which started at 7am.
Several trade unions are involved in the national action, including those representing nurses, paramedics, hospital porters and ambulance crews as well as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
From tomorrow (Tuesday) staff involved in the dispute will ‘work to rule’ for the next four days - meaning they will only do the tasks and times outlined in their employment contracts.
The dispute involves over 400,000 NHS staff, who have been hit by pay freezes or below inflation rises since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Contingency plans have been worked out, and union members will deal with emergencies.
But a row broke out after it emerged that military personnel and the police will be deployed by the London Ambulance Service.
Unions said they had been kept in the dark about the move.
The strike will be followed by other forms of industrial action for the rest of the week, leading up to a national demonstration in London on Saturday organised by the TUC under the banner, Britain Needs A Pay Rise.
Unions are protesting at the Government’s decision not to accept the independent pay review body’s recommendation to award a 1% pay rise to all staff. Instead, ministers took the “divisive” decision to only award a 1% pay rise for those on top of their pay band, which unions say has denied the one per cent increase to 60% of NHS workers.
Christina McAnea, national officer of Unison, said: “This is the first time in 32 years that NHS workers take industrial action over pay, and for many, it will be the first time. Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of workers are out fighting for fair pay and for the NHS.
“The fact that so many unions representing a range of NHS workers are taking action today or preparing to join future actions should send a clear message to the Government.
“The NHS relies on the good will of its workers but we know that a demotivated workforce is bad for patients. The Government needs to start negotiating with us and reconsider their pay policy.”
Trade unions taking part in the action are Unison, Unite, the GMB, the RCM, Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, Managers in Partnership, British Association of Occupational Therapists and the construction union Ucatt.
Members of the Society of Radiographers will strike for four hours next Monday, October 20.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, who will join a picket line near Euston in London to show her support for health workers, said: “NHS staff are always reluctant strikers - there hasn’t been a national strike over pay in the health service since 1982 - and they will do everything they can to protect patients in their care. But morale has hit rock-bottom. Even the Royal College of Midwives, which has have never been on strike, is taking action today.
“Not only have NHS staff faced year-on-year cuts in the relative value of their pay, ministers have turned down the recommendations of the independent pay review body, even though it called for an affordable, below-inflation pay rise.
“It is no surprise that the NHS is finding it hard to recruit and retain staff as they find themselves squeezed between falling living standards and covering up for NHS cuts.
“But NHS workers are not the only employees who do not understand why ministers are using the fruits of recovery to fund tax cuts for their rich supporters, while everyone else faces a continuing squeeze in their standard of living.
“This is why tens of thousands of workers will be joining the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demonstration this Saturday.”
NHS England’s Chief Nursing Officer Jane Cummings said: “We know that NHS staff are highly professional and always wish to put patients first. I am sure they will think very carefully before taking strike action to ensure the safety and care of patients is not put at risk.
“As a nurse, I know that Monday mornings are often extremely busy for the NHS and it may be busier than normal this Monday because of the strike action being taken by some staff.
“As ever, the safety and care of patients is our top priority and we have robust plans in place to cope. If necessary, the most urgent cases will be put first and we would ask the public to help, for example, by only calling an ambulance if it is a life-threatening situation.”
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “At a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise. And politicians wonder why the public does not afford them more respect. It feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.
“The independent panel of experts who advise the Government on NHS pay recommended a 1% pay rise for midwives, nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff. Unfortunately, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected that recommendation, and he and the employers decided that midwives and others won’t get a pay rise this year.
“I ask them to think of the pressure midwives have been under for years, made worse by a shortage of staff that never goes away. I ask them to think of the responsibility midwives have every single day, caring for both mother and baby. I ask them to think how it feels to those same midwives when, despite all that, they are told they aren’t worth a 1% pay rise.”
“Midwives are caring people who often work long hours of unpaid overtime just to keep our understaffed, under-resourced maternity services running in the midst of a decade-long baby boom. They deserve this modest 1% pay rise.”
Rachael Maskell, Unite’s head of health, said: “This is a double first in the dreadful mistreatment of our NHS by this government. This is the first time an independent pay review body has been dismissed and the first time core NHS professions have been so desperate that they will walk off hospital wards.
“It is quite clear that whatever warm words the Prime Minister mouths about our NHS that he and his health secretary are not prepared to offer the workforce a fair deal on pay.
“Instead they show disgraceful contempt for a dedicated workforce who have lost up to 15% in pay since 2010 and face being denied a one per cent pay increase this year.
“This industrial action could have been averted, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s continued refusal to sit down with health unions to try and find a solution has prompted widespread anger.
“Jeremy Hunt needs to get around the negotiating table otherwise he risks abdicating his responsibility not just to the NHS’s 1.4 million staff, but to the public who value their NHS and expect their government to do so too.”
London Ambulance director of operations, Jason Killens, said: “We are expecting to be under significant pressure when ambulance staff take strike action in a national dispute over pay. While we recognise the right of our staff to take action, we must also do all we can to continue to provide a safe service to Londoners.
“We have plans in place to ensure we reach the most seriously ill and injured patients as quickly as possible and these include additional support from hospital doctors and nurses, private ambulance crews, the police and the military.
“In the event of a major incident we are confident that our professional and dedicated healthcare professionals would return to work and this has been agreed by our local union representatives.
“We will be sending a response to all patients in a life threatening situation but other people may be referred to NHS111, given clinical advice, provided with alternative transport, may wait longer or will be asked to make their own way to hospital.
“As always we urge Londoners to call NHS111 and only call 999 for an ambulance in a genuine emergency so we have ambulance crews free to respond to life-threatening emergencies.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are disappointed that trade unions are taking industrial action.
“NHS staff are our greatest asset, and we’ve increased the NHS budget to pay for over 12,500 more clinical staff since 2010. We cannot afford a pay rise in addition to increments - which disproportionately reward the highest earners - without risking frontline jobs.”