Midwives are right in striking
Tomorrow, members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in Northern Ireland will, for the first time, take industrial action. Four years of pay restraint has had a devastating effect on pay; the average midwife would have a salary more than £4,000 higher if they had had increases in line with inflation. RCM members are saying: "Enough is enough".
Ordinarily, the pay for health and social care (HSC) staff is determined by the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB). Last year, the Northern Ireland Executive and employers rejected the PRB recommendation and prevented them from making a recommendation for 2015/16. This is a fundamental attack on the independence, fairness and transparency of the pay structure in the HSC.
Northern Ireland is now the only country in the UK that does not have a pay agreement for 2015/16. We want to negotiate an offer for members in Northern Ireland that is at least as good as the settlements achieved in England, Wales and Scotland.
Let me put your mind at rest: our action will not put women and babies at risk. We have worked with heads of midwifery in every trust to ensure the safety of mothers and babies and essential services (like the labour ward) will be maintained.
We will be postponing planned appointments, which will be rearranged. Our dispute is not with the women and babies we care for.
During the dispute, RCM members will also only work overtime that they're paid for and will take the breaks they're entitled to.
Our industrial action in England showed that midwives worked about three hours extra (unpaid) every week. Employers cannot continue to rely on the goodwill of staff while they are denying them a paltry 1% pay rise.
As the RCM director for Northern Ireland, I am so proud to work among such dedicated, professional and caring midwives and maternity support workers.
I believe HSC staff have to be valued and fairly rewarded for the work they do, because staff who are demoralised cannot deliver the quality of care that service-users, including mothers and babies, deserve. Investment in staff is an investment in better care.
Breedagh Hughes is director for Northern Ireland of the Royal College of Midwives