Around 100,000 health workers are set to strike against a derisory three-year pay offer after members of the Unite union voted for industrial action.
The national strike, set for early next year, will be the first in the NHS for two decades and will involve laboratory technicians, community nurses, as well as many administrative staff.
It could easily become a focus for all those who are angry over government attempts to limit pay rises to below inflation.
In the run up to the strike Unite will hold a day of protest on Wednesday 3 December.
This will include a ban on non-essential paperwork, email exchanges, attendance at meetings, telephone calls and using personal mobiles. Members will be asked to limit their work to that stipulated in their contracts.
Members voted by 76 percent for action short of strikes, and by 53 percent in favour of strikes.
With the health service permanently high among the public’s priorities, any industrial action will create political turmoil for the government—as well as having a significant effect on NHS services.
Gordon Brown’s public sector pay limits have seen below-inflation pay rises for health workers for the past two years.
The remaining two years of the current deal are likely to compound that with increases of just 2.4 percent in 2009-10 and 2.25 percent in 2010-11.
Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson said, “The government’s strategy on the economy doesn’t fit with its strategy on public sector pay.
“Our members voted to take industrial action for the first time and the government should take very serious notice.”
That Unite has been prepared to announce strong action over pay will come as an embarrassment to the leaders of the two biggest NHS unions—Unison and the Royal College of Nursing.
Both conducted backroom deals with the government to secure the shoddy three-year pay deal.
Shortly after Unison members reluctantly accepted the offer, the union was forced to push for a renegotiation of its second and third years, fearing that rising inflation would turn the “pay rises” into further pay cuts.
Unsurprisingly, the government is in no mood for talking and has told the pay review bodies that it sees no reason to increase its offer.
It is to be hoped that the Unite strike and day of action could become a focus for all those who are angry at NHS pay, regardless of which union they belong to.
Lunchtime rallies that sought to bring workers together would help pile pressure on the government.
The action could also win support from all those who are fighting against cuts to services and to keep the NHS public—and thereby become the stuff of health ministers’ nightmares.