The Royal College of Nursing will launch an official strike ballot of its members on Guernsey if the government there continues to avoid negotiations on nurse pay, Nursing Times has been told.
While the college stressed it hoped to avoid reaching this point, it also said this would be the “next step” if the situation on pay did not move forwards.
Guernsey nurses rejected a three-year pay deal put forward by the States of Guernsey and signalled their appetite for industrial action as part of a consultative ballot in September.
Under the three-year deal, nurses on Guernsey were offered an uplift of 5% plus a payment of £500 to be added to all pay scales for 2022.
For 2023, nurses were offered a pay rise equal to the rate of inflation and in 2024, a pay rise 1% below the level of inflation.
Sarah Johnston, RCN South East operational manager, told Nursing Times the union felt it was currently at “a stalemate” with the States of Guernsey, which she claimed was refusing to come to the table to negotiate on pay.
She said the RCN had lodged the issue with the Industrial Disputes Officer to “force them to come to the table and have a conversation” and that she hoped by February these talks would come to fruition.
When asked about the likelihood of strike action by nurses on Guernsey, Ms Johnston said: “We know that members are angry [and] we know that members are prepared to take industrial action.
“We would hope we wouldn’t get to that point – what we really want to do is get round the table.
“But if we needed to, we would ballot our members at some point, if we’re not able to move it forward, because that would be our next step.”
“If we needed to, we would ballot our members at some point, if we’re not able to move it forward”
Her comments follow a letter sent by Guernsey politician, deputy Dave Mahoney, who is a policy and resources committee member at the states, to Agenda for Change staff including nurses.
Sent just before Christmas, the letter reiterated what he described as the states’ “final and best” offer and said the 2022 award had not yet been implemented because the issue was with the Industrial Disputes Officer following the RCN’s rejection.
Mr Mahoney said he recognised nurses and colleagues would be “disappointed” that they had not yet seen an increase in their pay, but reassured that once an agreement had been reached, “all awards will be backdated to the relevant dates”.
Ms Johnston said the RCN had not responded to the correspondence because it wanted to avoid “going backwards and forwards discussing letters” and instead focus on sitting down and negotiating.
Guernsey nurses were feeling “really undervalued” amid the situation, noted Ms Johnston and some said they felt the government was trying to “starve us out”.
“Many of our members are really struggling [financially] and I think that’s why there’s a feeling that if the states do nothing, eventually, they’re hoping I think that the members will crumble and say, ‘we’ll have to give in’,” said Ms Johnston.
In a statement issued to Nursing Times, Mr Mahoney said he had written his letter last month because, as the employer, “it’s important we communicate with all employees to provide them with full, clear and accurate information on what pay offer has been made and what that would mean for them”.
“We have been very clear with all unions from the outset, that it is the final and best offer we are able to make”
“With regard to the current situation with the pay negotiations, we have been very clear with all unions from the outset, that it is the final and best offer we are able to make and that we believe it is very good three year offer, balancing several factors including the significant above inflation awards made to employees in this group in recent years, the need to restrain expenditure with public finances under pressure, and providing a fair award to employees that reflects the increased cost of living,” he added.
“While RCN members have not accepted the offer, it is worth noting that members of another union which also represents some of the employees in this group have accepted it.”
He claimed the three-year offer would mean, “in some cases”, that “employees would receive increases amounting to nearly 40% when taking incremental uplifts into account”.
Mr Mahoney added: “I’m disappointed to hear the RCN suggest there’s an attempt to ‘starve out’ our own employees.
“Firstly, I think that language is inflammatory and unhelpful. But more importantly, I hope my letter made clear that we hope to be able to make this award as soon as possible, and will backdate all pay as appropriate, but it is now currently with the Industrial Disputes Officer.
“The RCN will be fully aware of this process which is clearly set out in Guernsey law.”
As reported by Nursing Times, Mr Mahoney has previously raised concerns about the integrity of the RCN’s consultative ballot of members on the states’ pay offer, though this was strongly refuted by the college.
The situation comes as nurses across the UK are in the middle of an escalating dispute over pay with the government.
Strikes organised by unions, including the RCN and Unison, saw thousands of nurses walk out in December, with further action planned for later this month.