Midwives break ranks over pay

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

The fight against locally determined pay in the National Health Service was severely undermined yesterday when midwives opened the way for "cash on delivery" productivity deals.

To the amazement of other unions the 35,000-member Royal College of Midwives agreed to accept a 1 per cent national pay offer to be topped up in local negotiations with NHS trusts by up to 2 per cent. The college called off its ballot on industrial action and declared its readiness to accept the development of "payment per birth" schemes which could replace nationally negotiated salaries.

Acceptance of the deal means that the RCM joins the Royal College of Nursing in abandoning the union battle to force a full 3 per cent nationwide offer. The nursing college however said it was "astonished" by the midwives' agreement to the national offer of just 1 per cent.

The acceptance by the RCM of trust-based negotiations was a price exacted by senior management negotiators for an agreement over long-standing grievances over grading.

The decision means that other health unions, led by Unison, the biggest in the sector, will resume negotiations with management on Monday while the two royal colleges follow different strategies. It is a division management has privately said it will exploit to dismantle the national bargaining systems and begins to call into question the viability of industrial action planned by other unions.

Julia Allison, general secretary of the midwives' union, said local bargaining was "a price well worth paying" for a new set of guidelines to be sent out by the NHS executive. The official advice should mean that 30 per cent of midwives will receive an increase of at least pounds 2,000 a year because of upgrading.

Malcolm Wing of Unison, accused the RCM of "breathtaking naivety" and of "buying a pig in a poke".