Midwives end 100-year-old strike ban

Vote shows strong support for industrial action
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The Independent Online
Britain's midwives, angered by the Government's 1 per cent national pay award, have taken the unprecedented step of voting to rewrite their constitution in order to get rid of their ban on striking.

The historic decision by members of the Royal College of Midwives ends the professional body's 115-year-old tradition of refusing to take industrial action. Midwives will now be balloted on what action to take after the move, which puts them on a direct collision course with the Government.

Details of the vote to scrap the no-strike rule are due to be announced to the college's council, its ruling body, today. The council will then begin drafting a new constitution and also work out what will be the next steps in the midwives' campaign for better pay.

There is thought to have been overwhelming support among members of the college for the idea of abandoning the current no-strike policy.

The college's 36,000 midwives have also indicated that they are prepared to take part in many different sorts of industrial action. When filling out ballot forms, the members were asked to say whether they would be willing to support all or any of seven different sorts of industrial action.

These ranged from a total withdrawal of labour, with midwives refusing even to attend mothers in delivery rooms, to the less drastic partial withdrawal of labour. This would involve a refusal to attend ante-natal or post-natal clinics and a ban on overtime.

The other possible types of industrial action that the midwives could decide to take include refusing to carry out anything but graded duties, refusing to carry out administrative duties, working to rule, or a withdrawal of goodwill. It is understood that there has been "considerable support" from the midwives for most of the options.

Opposition to the national pay offer, which includes up to 2 per cent to be negotiated locally, has already been voiced by nurses who are campaigning for the Government to amend the deal.

Both of the professions are traditionally unlikely and unwilling to strike, but there appears to be an unprecedented level of anger among both midwives and nurses following the pay offer.

On 1 March, the Royal College of Nursing, the health workers' union Unison, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Health Visitors' Association all publicly pledged their solidarity and announced the start of a national campaign to force the Government into offering them an improved national pay award.

But, unusually, the midwives - who are generally considered to be among the most moderate of the health workers - appear to be willing to go much further than the nurses in their reaction to the Government's pay proposals.

In February, when the Royal College of Midwives announced its plans to ballot its members, Julia Allison, the college secretary, described the 1 per cent pay offer as "contemptible".

"Nurses see this award as the kiss of Judas," said Ms Allison at the time.

The midwives' anger is said to have been fuelled by bitterness over their regrading and down-grading, which has led to many midwives having to accept pay cuts.

The long-running battle over pay has encouraged many nurses to leave the profession. According to one report, the number of midwives and nurses has dropped by 37,000 in the last four years.