Heart Unions: an opportunity to celebrate and connect

By Suzanne Tyler RCM Executive Director, Trade Union on 14 February 2023 Maternity Services RCM Trade Unions Wales Pay and Agenda For Change Welsh Government

Almost seven million workers in the UK belong to trades unions and together we stand for something very simple: making the working lives of our members better. For the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) that means working to ensure every midwife, maternity support worker and student midwife can take their best selves into work, study or practice every day.

We are 49,000 individuals but we are also a collective 174 branches and 638 workplaces – places to find solidarity, collaboration and inspiration. This HeartUnions week is an opportunity to share our successes, learn from others’ struggles and renew our optimism and faith that together we can build a better future for maternity services.

I’m marking HeartUnions week by visiting seven different RCM branches listening to our members and seeing what life is like for you as you continue to work so hard to provide high quality care against all the odds. We’ll discuss the things that are important to you pay (obviously), staffing levels, but also health, safety and overall wellbeing concerns like levels of Entonox, bullying and racial harassment as well as organising around local issues like on-calls. You can follow my progress on Twitter here.

This year has seen an unprecedented level of union activity with industrial action across health, education, local government, fire, rail and postal services. The Tories’ anti-trade union legislation creates enormous barriers to taking legal action. Despite not reaching the threshold in England we remain in dispute with the Westminster Government and stand ready to enter into negotiations.

It has been many weeks since we met with the Secretary of State and while the Government refuse to negotiate to resolve the disputes across the NHS, the workforce crisis deepens. We have participated in TUC-organised rallies and protests around the country. Visiting the picket lines for ambulance workers, physios and nurses has been hugely appreciated by those colleagues and is a tangible way for us to continue to join in the protests. In Wales and Scotland, our members voted for industrial action and brought those governments back to the table with renewed pay offers. We are currently balloting for industrial action in Northern Ireland.

But industrial action is not an end in itself. We will not achieve our ambitions for midwives and MSWs with one four-hour stoppage. Striking is only one weapon in our armoury. Just as important are good industrial relations with employers, winning hearts and minds, campaigning and winning locally and using our collective voice for political action. Next up in our campaign is a concerted call to MPs to save maternity services by making good on past promises for investment as well as exposing the level of unpaid overtime and additional hours being worked.

For RCM members everywhere let’s mark on HeartUnions week by having conversations with colleagues, particularly any who are not members to share ideas about why being part of a trade union is more important than ever. You’ll find great resources here and on the TUC website.