Scottish health workers will have to battle hard to keep a pay fight going after Unison voted heavily to accept the 4 percent offer. It was recommended by leaders of Unison, the biggest health union.
Much more positively, 69 percent of members of the nurses’ RCN union voted to reject the Scottish government’s offer.
The GMB union, which has a significant base in the Scottish ambulance service, also rejected the deal.
Geoff Earl, a member of the Scottish RCN council, told an online meeting of activists that he was “extremely proud” of nurses that rejected the government offer.
He reminded the audience that his union had fought alone over pay and safe staffing in Northern Ireland in 2019—and that it was prepared to do so again.
“Don’t listen to the naysayers,” he insisted, referring to those arguing Unison’s acceptance has ended the pay battle. “This fight has got a long, long way to go yet.”
The RCN says it will now await a response from the Scottish government before deciding how to proceed. But the union is making it clear that a strike over pay in Scotland is a strong possibility.
Gary Smith of the GMB union agreed, saying his union’s position was being “driven from below”.
He said that he’d be recommending the union moves to a ballot for industrial action—and that he wants a march of thousands of health workers to besiege the Scottish parliament over the issue. “We are sick to death of getting crumbs,” he said.
Smith was backed by GMB rep Holly Turner. She talked about how in 15 years working in the NHS conditions have never been tougher. Pay cuts, she said, were directly affecting patient care because low pay led to understaffing and a dangerous work environment.
“We refuse to let this continue,” she said.
Unison's leaders further undermined the NHS pay fight across Britain by saying that 4 percent is a good deal. Scottish Unison's head of health Willie Duffy, said, "This pay rise represents a fair increase for our members." If that's right it means higher claims—including Unison's—are excessive.
In truth, 4 percent is far short of what health workers need after years of real pay cuts and worsening conditions.
It is clear that in Scotland much now depends on how the RCN responds. If, as many leading activists say, the union is serious about industrial action, it could lead to a wave of strikes across hospitals.
In turn, many nurses in other unions could seek to join the action by switching unions.
RCN hospital picket lines could cause a crisis for the big unions if their members refuse to cross them.
Health workers in all unions must keep up the pressure on pay.