NHS Scotland – Statutory Industrial Action Ballot: what does it mean for me?

SoR’s industrial action ballot regarding the Scottish Government’s 5% pay offer opens on 10th October

Published: 08 September 2022 Trade Union & IR

For members in Scotland, ballot papers will shortly be dropping through your letterboxes – so look out for them arriving!

A number of you have been in touch to ask what’s involved in an industrial action ballot. 

Your questions have included:

  • What information does SoR need from me to ensure that I receive a ballot paper? 

  • Why do you need to know where I work or what my home address is?

  • What am I being asked to do?

  • What is industrial action?

  • When will the outcome of the ballot will be released and what might happen if there is a legal vote in favour of action?

  • What about patient safety?

These are important questions which this article hopes to answer – though your local representative or National Officer is always on hand to answer any further questions you might have and further guidance will be issued to you in the coming weeks.

Required Information

  • The law  requires us to notify an employer if we have authorised and intend to run an industrial action ballot.

  • We need to let the employer know how many members we have and what category of worker they are.

  • This means that we need to know your workplace and employer details. We should already have details of your job title – but would be grateful if you could check this for accuracy too, as we are required to notify the employer of categories of worker.

  • The law requires us to conduct the ballot by post.

  • This means that we need your home address.

  • We cannot send a ballot to you if we cannot verify where you work or who you work for or if we do not have your home address. So that information is critical.

  • You can update your own details here. Or you can contact your local rep or National Officer and they will arrange for your details to be amended.

  • Because it takes time to instruct an independent scrutineer and company to send out ballot papers, we need this information no later than 9th September. 

What are you being asked?

  • You are being asked to participate in a statutory industrial action ballot. 

  • Statutory industrial action ballots must be conducted by post.

  • You will receive a ballot paper and return addressed envelope by the 10th of October. 

  • Your ballot paper will have one question. It will ask you whether you are prepared to take part in industrial action, which means going on strike. You indicate your answer by placing a cross against the Yes or No option on the ballot paper.

  • Your elected officials are urging you to vote YES to industrial action.

  • You are asked to return your completed ballot no later than the 7th November.

  • Ballot papers returned after that date will not be counted.

When will we know the outcome of the ballot?

  • Returned ballot papers will be counted and scrutinised by the appointed independent scrutineer and the result will be known shortly after – precise dates will be confirmed in future communications.

  • We have a legal obligation to advise the employers of the ballot outcome. We need to tell them how many members we have working with them. How many members we balloted and how many members voted for industrial action.

  • What does ‘legal threshold’ mean?

  • 50% of the members who work for the employer need to have returned their ballot and a majority of them need to have voted in favour of industrial action. 

  • This 50% threshold rule effectively means that ‘not voting’ or failing to return your completed ballot paper counts as a vote against industrial action.

  • That is why – regardless of whether you are for or against action - it is important that you return your ballot paper.

What is strike action?

  • Strike action is a complete withdrawal of labour.

  • This could be for half a day or a day or longer. The duration or pattern depends on the dispute and how it develops.

  • Strike action will inevitably result in disruption to NHS services.

  • Strike action is never taken lightly and trade unions will always seek a negotiated settlement to a dispute. However, the sheer fact that employees are so angry that they are prepared to withdraw their labour is a significant sign of strength of feeling and delivers the strongest message to the employer. It helps to strengthen the trade union’s hand when it comes to attempting to negotiate a settlement.

  • It is important for you to know that if you withdraw your services (go on strike) you will lose pay for that period of time that you are on strike and not working.

  • What about patient safety?

  • Many of you have been in touch to express concern that patient safety will be at risk if a strike takes place.

  • We know that whilst you are passionate about your right to strike and about delivering a strong message about how you feel about an insulting pay offer, you are also very concerned and committed professionals who care deeply about patient safety and welfare. We know that you may be feeling very conflicted about this.

  • SoR – in common with sister unions in the healthcare sector – remains committed to preserving patient safety. SoR therefore follows a life preserving care model when planning strike action and will work with employers and sister unions to ensure that there is a level of service maintained that preserves patient safety. This will generally involve protections for emergency healthcare and urgent diagnostic or therapeutic services which are life preserving or aim to prevent permanent disability. You might hear this referred to as ‘life and limb’ cover.

  • We know that employers will seek to negotiate as many ‘exemptions’ or ‘derogations’ as possible. Exemptions refer to staff members who are exempt from going on strike but instead are permitted to work in order to maintain a minimum service. 

  • Employer requests for such exemptions may be directed to the local or ‘lead’ representative but should be referred to the National Officer. Each request will be considered on their own individual basis, but it is unlikely that the exemptions granted would exceed the minimum cover provided on a public holiday for instance.

Next Steps

This article is just a first attempt to address some of the questions that you have been asking. We know that there will be more questions to come.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with your local Representative or your National Officer if you need any additional information.

In the meantime, please ensure that your membership details are up-to-date and that we have all the information we require in order to include you in the ballot.

Remember: you are worth more than a derisory 5% increase! Exercise your vote. Vote YES to industrial action! Tell Government to demonstrate that they really do value your labour!