The Tories must not make falling NHS wages the price we pay for Brexit

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NHS bill rally at Westminster

The Royal College of Midwives was proud to speak at TUC Congress on motion 17 about protecting workers and trade union rights in Brexit.

We amended the motion to include that we believe the TUC needs to campaign, in the light of a potentially impending recession, to end the policy of public sector pay restraint to ensure that public sector workers, including NHS staff, do not pay the price of Brexit with a decade of pay restraint.

Like the TUC and many other trade unions, the RCM campaigned to remain in EU. While the outcome was not what we had hoped, we do respect the democratic outcome of the vote. We are now looking to the future and what this means for RCM members.

The EU has played a central role in protecting working people from exploitation, combating discrimination and promoting good employment practices, such as equal pay; maternity rights; health and safety protections; equalities protections; rights for agency workers; the working time directive; information and consultation and TUPE protections. The Government must commit to keeping these rights. Watering down or dismantling this legislation would be a backward step for living standards.

We also need to protect existing workers who come from other EU countries. We are calling for EU workers in the NHS to be granted the right to remain. These are dedicated and hardworking staff and the Government should do the right thing.

This is important across the NHS but particularly in maternity services because we have a long term shortage of midwives. For over a decade the RCM has been campaigning to end the shortage of midwives. While we have had some success in convincing previous governments to hire more midwives we still have a shortage of around 3,500.

There are currently 1,192 full time equivalent midwives who are from EU countries and do not currently know if they will be allowed to stay in post-Brexit Britain. Worryingly, over half of those midwives are in London, where the shortage of midwives is most acute. It is unthinkable that these dedicated midwives, who have given so much to the NHS, could be valued so little that they are not allowed to stay in the UK. Even more unthinkable is what happens to the women they care for. If this did happen, the shortage would increase by over a third. All our hard work campaigning to reduce the shortage would be undone. EU staff working in the NHS must be granted the right to remain.

It is not just employment rights and the right to remain for NHS staff from the EU that we need to fight for following the decision to leave the EU, we need to fight to end public sector pay restraint. Pay has still not recovered since the 2008/09 recession. It would be disastrous for living standards if pay restraint continues, particularly if we are plunged into another recession.

The Government must end its devastating policy of pay restraint. We estimate that the past six years of pay restraint in the NHS has led the real value of pay for a midwife in the NHS to drop by over £4,000 since 2010.

It has been a battle to even get the full 1 per cent pay uplift for our members. In 2014, the RCM took industrial action for the first time in our 134 year history over the failure of Jeremy Hunt to pay the 1 per cent uplift to staff that was recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body. We eventually won our dispute and the 1 per cent was paid to NHS staff but enough is enough, we need a fair pay rise for the NHS.

At the end of June, Phillip Hammond, the new Chancellor, announced that pay awards in the public sector would be limited to no more than 1 per cent to the end of this Parliament which will mean that, by 2020, NHS staff, and other public sector workers will have seen a decade of pay stagnation. When we submit our evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body later in September we will say that it needs to challenge Government pay policy.

We are calling on the Government to address falling wages and end its policy of pay restraint. Higher wages would not only stimulate the economy, but may also begin to redress the feeling of inequality and injustice that may have led to people’s decision to vote to leave the EU. We hope that the motion is supported and all affiliated unions, with the TUC, campaign to protect workers and trade union rights in the EU Brexit.

Amy Leversidge is employment relations advisor at the Royal College of Midwives.

TUC annual congress runs from Sunday 11 to Wednesday 14 September in Brighton. To see the rest of our coverage go to LabourList’s trade unions page.

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