Midwives across England and Wales are being urged to vote in support of industrial action over pay in a ballot which opens today.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has today launched only its second ballot on industrial action in England and its first in Wales in its 142-year history.
Some 30,000 eligible members working in the NHS in England and Wales will be asked if they are prepared to take industrial action short of strike and whether they are prepared to take strike action.
The postal ballot, which will close at midday on 12 December, comes after members overwhelmingly rejected the government’s below-inflation 4% pay awards for 2022-23.
The RCM’s executive director trade union, Dr Suzanne Tyler, said midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) had been “pushed to the brink” and that the latest pay award was “the last straw for many”.
“It clearly shows that governments do not value the skills, dedication, and incredible commitment of midwives and MSWs,” she added.
“It also shows that they either don’t understand or simply don’t care about the financial pressures facing our members and their NHS colleagues.”
A decision to take industrial action will not be one that midwives and MSWs “take lightly”, noted Dr Tyler.
“But they clearly feel they have no other recourse than this,” she said.
The RCM has reassured both staff and women and families using maternity services that midwives and MSWs “will not take any type of action that would put women or babies at risk”.
The union pointed to previous strike action it had taken in 2014 when it said “ensuring the delivery of safe services remained paramount”.
Dr Tyler added: “This is not just about pay; it is about the care NHS staff are able to deliver.
“There is a massive and worsening shortage of midwives, rising vacancy rates in England and growing staffing pressures in Wales.
“Our own members told us last year that more than half of midwives were thinking of leaving the NHS: now that thought is becoming reality.”
She urged the governments in England and Wales to “do far more to retain staff and bring others into the NHS”.
A “meaningful pay offer and an urgent retention package is a good place to start”, added Dr Tyler.
“Investing in NHS pay is an investment in staff and an investment in better care for women, babies, and families,” she said.
Separately, RCM members in Scotland have already voted in overwhelming numbers to take industrial action.
As reported previously, in a turnout of 61% of eligible voters, more than 88% voted ‘yes’ to taking industrial action consisting of a strike.
In addition, more than 94% said they were prepared to take industrial action short of a strike.
The news comes as the Royal College of Nursing this week announced that nurses across the majority of NHS employers in the UK had secured a mandate for strike action.
The union Unison is also currently balloting hundreds of thousands of health workers, including nurses, on strike action over pay.
Responding to the news from the RCM, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations in full and have been clear that without additional funding from the UK Government, there are limits to how far we can go to address these concerns in Wales.
“We have called on UK ministers to provide the additional funding necessary for fair pay rises for public sector workers and to take urgent action now to reduce inflation and provide the help people need during these difficult times.”
The Department of Health and Social Care was also contacted for comment.