The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) chief executive appears to have raised doubts over whether a further six-month NHS strike mandate will be secured this week, as she suggested that the government’s rules on postal ballots ‘could get the better of us’.
While the RCN’s ballot on whether to take further industrial action is not due to conclude until Friday 23 June, it is understood more postal votes are needed to be received before the deadline to meet the government’s ballot thresholds.
During a visit to a hospital in Guildford and speaking to The Guardian, Pat Cullen said unless it received the 150,000 votes required, the strikes would ‘hit the end of the road’.
‘There are only a couple of days left to vote by post and it is starting to look like the government’s rules on postal voting could get the better of us,’ she told the newspaper.
The RCN’s ongoing aggregated strike ballot, which opened in May, seeks a mandate for NHS nurses to strike at every employer across England where RCN members are employed.
Some 50% of all eligible members must vote and a majority of those that do must say ‘yes’ to industrial action for the RCN to gain a further six-month industrial action mandate.
Ms Cullen suggested that the government’s postal ballot rules were part of its desire to ‘make it harder for working people to have their voices heard’.
Ms Cullen told The Guardian: ‘After nurses said they needed better from government, they can vote again on whether to take more strike action until December.
‘Nursing staff can still post their ballots back but unless 150,000 people get their votes sent back in the post then the strike has hit the end of the road.’
Members of the RCN previously voted to reject the government’s offer of a 5% consolidated pay award for 2023/24 and a one-off award for 2022/23 and a Covid bonus for 2023/24.
Yet, while the RCN remain in disagreement over the deal, the offer was ultimately implemented after a majority of unions voted to accept earlier this year.
Responding to Ms Cullen’s comments an RCN spokesperson told Nursing in Practice that the ballot was ‘tight’ and insisted that Ms Cullen’s remarks were intended to encourage members to vote.
The spokesperson added that eligible RCN members should submit their ballots regardless of whether they support or oppose the strike action because ‘the RCN is a member-led organisation so it is important that we know what they think’.
They added that if it failed to secure a strike mandate, the union would still remain in opposition to the government’s pay award.
While they said that the union would require time to ‘consider our options’ they added that members had ‘clearly’ rejected the government’s previous pay offers.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of nurses and it is disappointing the RCN is balloting their members for further industrial action.
‘The majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept the government’s fair and reasonable pay offer – which includes a double digit pay rise of 10.7% over two years for newly qualified nurses.’
They added: ‘We hope RCN members recognise this is a fair deal and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end.’