SoR opinion: Right to strike?

SoR CEO Richard Evans on the prospect of industrial action and why the SoR supports the TUC campaign against the Strikes Bill

Published: 31 May 2023 Trade Union & IR

One of the most common questions asked by SoR members as we prepare to ballot for industrial action is “How will we ensure patients are not harmed?”

Some members need to know that services can be planned safely for emergencies, urgent care and essential treatments before they will consider casting their vote. This tells me two things.

Firstly, that SoR members, in common will all other health professionals, prioritise the needs of their patients over any demands that they might have (however justifiable) for improved pay and conditions at work.

Secondly, it is clear that the SoR reaches the point of balloting for industrial action so rarely that we have little recollection of the arrangements that have been made in the past to ensure our point can be made whilst protecting patients.

Strike action is a last resort

Despite the way unions are portrayed in the media and by politicians, strike action is a last resort. It takes a lot for people, especially healthcare professionals, to vote for industrial action and to withdraw our labour. For many it is an agonising choice.

But make no mistake, the decision to participate in industrial action for any SoR member is a professional choice.

Underfunding and political neglect of workforce planning by successive governments have caused a crisis in UK healthcare. Service delivery is being affected. Patients are being harmed. Professionals cannot be expected to ignore the situation any longer.

The pay question is of course central in everyone’s minds and it is no less a professional issue. The NHS is being held together by professionalism and dedication. Allowing real terms pay to decline so markedly over years amounts to abuse of this trust. The Westminster government is at fault and has to be held to account.

Legal right to withdraw labour

Instead of facing up to the crisis they have created, ministers are attempting to introduce legislation intended to limit the ability of SoR members to take strike action. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is designed to silence the voice of professionals and others that care about the services that they provide.

Although the anti-strike bill is being proposed by the current government, expressing opposition to it is a moral rather than a party-political stance. The ability to withdraw labour legally is enshrined in international law as a human right. It is a right that protects frontline staff and the services they provide. For healthcare employees, there is an additional patient care dimension.

The SoR supports the TUC in its campaign against the introduction of the bill. You can read more here: Thank you for your continuing support of the SoR.