Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 53 Number 18, June 17, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Junior Doctors' Three-day Strike

The Watchword Must Be Unity of All Health Workers to Continue their Resistance

Photo: BBC

On Wednesday, June 14, 47,600 junior doctors, members of the British Medical Association (BMA), have continued their just struggle for pay restoration with their third strike in 2023. The junior doctors make up 40% of medical professionals in the NHS and range from trainees to doctors operating at senior levels with more than 10 years' experience, such as Registrars. The doctors have been demanding a 35% pay rise due to 15 years of real-terms pay cuts. Junior doctors' inflation-adjusted pay has fallen by 26% since 2008, leading to a crisis in recruitment and retention, according to the BMA. The strike is for 72 hours and part of a united and continued resistance of all health workers to ongoing attacks on their pay and working conditions.

Photo: SSTHC

Since the junior doctors' last strike in April, the government had refused to enter into any meaningful negotiations with the BMA. Some talks took place in May with Steven Barclay, Health Secretary. Of those talks [1], Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, the co-chairs of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said: "We made proposals showing our willingness to be creative and work with the government on how the reversal of our pay erosion could be achieved. In the end, however, the government would simply not accept the fundamental reality of the pay cuts junior doctors have faced. This was made clear when they finally made their pay offer of 5%. Not only is that nowhere near addressing pay erosion over the last 15 years, it would not even have matched inflation this year."

Last year the government had previously offered to all health workers through its Pay Review Boards pay "increases" of around 3.5%, well below inflation. This was a huge insult to all health workers who had suffered in previous years through government "pay restraint". Health workers, like the transport and other workers, have had enough. Therefore, it was no surprise that this provocative attack by the government on the living standards of health workers, as well as the increased workload imposed by cuts to services, would be rejected.

When the government arrogantly refused to negotiate with nurses in RCN, ambulance staff in Unite, GMB and UNISON, and junior doctors in the BMA, the health workers launched their strike actions. These strikes have steadily gained huge support from people across the country. In March, far from entering into meaningful negotiations with all health workers and their unions, the government made a divisive "take-it-or-leave-it" offer of around a 5% salary increase, with higher uplift for low paid staff and with an immediate one-off payment of around £1,500 depending on pay levels. Also with this "pay offer" was the continued refusal of government to enter into any further negotiations before the unions ended their strike action.

This arbitrary nature of government does not even recognise the reality of the pay concerns of health workers and does not listen to them, or recognise their voice in decision-making. The government does not recognise that the issue of pay restoration for medical and nursing staff is even an issue, let alone entering into negotiations on how it can be resolved. The outlook of the doctors and nurses is centred on the reality that a healthy society needs a modern public health service with adequate all-round funding, investment and justly paid health workers and professionals. It is the opposite of the arbitrary outlook of the government and ruling elite who have brought about the situation where poor pay and lack of investment have caused a huge skill shortage, leading to many junior doctors moving abroad or leaving the profession. Squeezing doctors' and nurses' standards of life and work has become the norm and these gatekeepers of governance are intent to hold the doors to decision-making power closed, with total disregard for and placing themselves above human relations in society.

In contrast, empowerment for workers across the board is on the agenda, and the movement of health workers and the people as a whole is gathering pace to turn the tables on the government and ruling elite. The watchword must be unity of all health workers to continue their resistance against the ongoing attacks on their pay and working conditions. They must be vigilant against the continued government attempts to divide them with their divisive pay offers to different sections of health workers with the aim of the government continuing to ignore their concerns. The situation demands that health workers and people continue their fight to participate in the decision-making to protect and develop the publicly-owned healthcare system.

[1] Junior doctors in England to strike for three further days in June - The Guardian, May 22 2023


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