Historic ballot for nursing union
THE Royal College of Nursing has, for the first time ever, authorised a strike ballot giving its Jersey branch the go-ahead to ask members if they favour walking out if an acceptable pay deal is not forthcoming.
Kenny McNeil, chairman of the local branch of the union, said that patient care and safety would be a priority if the Island’s nurses decided to walk out, but added that everything depended on how mediation talks with the States Employment Board progressed next week.
A statement released by the RCN says that its decision to authorise a strike ballot was ‘historic’ and that none of its members had ever gone on strike before anywhere.
The statement says: ‘The RCN has unanimously agreed its Jersey Branch can ballot members working at the States Health and Community Services Department on taking strike action over pay if mediation by the Jersey Advisory and Conciliation Service with the States Employment Board doesn’t urgently result in an improved pay offer.
‘This is the first time in its history the RCN has authorised a strike ballot and if members walk out, it will be the first time RCN members have gone on strike anywhere.
‘RCN members have taken this decision after years of unfair treatment and a below-inflation pay offer.’
Jersey’s nurses are among several groups of public sector workers who have moved for industrial action due to dissatisfaction at receiving below-inflation pay rises for 2018 and 2019. They also feel that promises of pay equality made several years ago have not been kept.
Other disaffected groups include civil servants, who have already participated in walk-outs, and teachers, whose unions have voted heavily in favour of strike action in recent weeks.
The RCN and the Jersey Nursing Association both rejected their pay rises of 3.1% and 3% for 2018 and 2019 earlier this month. The rate of inflation is currently 3.9%. Mr McNeil said that he did not want patients to be ‘fearful’ in case the nurses did decide to go on strike.
‘They have given us the choice to ballot on strike action and that has never happened before anywhere for the RCN,’ he said.
‘It all depends on how the mediation goes next week and we will be making a decision soon.
‘We want patients to know that they will be a priority and we don’t want them to be fearful. It is a very difficult decision for nurses to go on strike but they feel that they have been forced into this.
‘Ultimately, patient care and safety will need to come first and we will ensure that.’
Lindsay Meeks, regional director of RCN South East, added that the ‘historic decision’ had come after ‘years of poor pay and a desultory offer’ from the States.
‘It reflects the strength of feeling among our members, after years of unequal pay which is driving people away from the Island, and ultimately risks safe patient care, as nurse numbers dwindle,’ she said.
‘But first and foremost, nurses’ responsibility is to their patients and, should the strike go ahead, members will take every precaution to ensure treatment and care remains safe.
‘Our members want this situation resolved, and the RCN will continue to negotiate through the mediation service. We hope it doesn’t come to a walk-out, but the States should be in no doubt our members will not be ignored again.’
The SEB said that it was ‘disappointed that any union would contemplate industrial action’.
‘Talks are either under way, or are planned, with all unions who have not accepted the States of Jersey’s 2018/19 pay offer. The purpose of these talks is to explore ways in which we might resolve the pay review by agreement,’ the SEB said in a statement.
‘It is important that these discussions take place in confidence and therefore no further comments will be made at this time.’