UK doctors have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action over pensions. This is the first time in nearly 40 years, the last time being when junior hospital doctors went on strike over long hours and low pay in 1975.
50% of Britain’s 104,544 doctors took part in the ballot, with an overwhelming 84% voting in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 72% prepared to take part in a strike. The BMA’s proposed industrial action will start with one day action on 21st June, with doctors reporting to their workplaces and dealing with all emergencies and urgent work, but postponing routine operations and clinic appointments. So it would probably be the safest day of the year to fall ill!
Doctors feel so strongly because we already agreed a renegotiation of our pension in 2008, which made the scheme sustainable in the long term. As part of the 2008 agreement, NHS staff took on responsibility for any future increases in costs due to improved life expectancy. The scheme currently delivers a surplus to the treasury of around £2 billion a year. Yet doctors would see their contributions rise from 6% of our pay now up to 14.5% by 2014. These contributions would be double those of judges and such people. It would see us working till we are 68 or older if the state pension age rises further.
The high vote for industrial action reflects the anger that doctors feel about many things, not just pensions. We feel angry about the new Health and Social Care Act, which is starting to privatise our NHS. We feel lied to by a government that promised it would protect the NHS and explicitly promised in its manifesto that there would be no major reorganisations, and then went back on its word in weeks of getting elected. So doctors fully understand the same government is lying to us over pensions, when they say the scheme is unaffordable. We know it is affordable and our pension pot is just being raided to boost treasury funds depleted after bailing out the banks.
The newspapers say that doctors earn a lot and get large enough pensions, and should be prepared to give up some of their pensions to allow the low paid to be spared worse cuts in theirs. But doctors have seen through that. We know that if we let our pensions be slashed, that makes it more likely, not less likely, that low paid public service workers will lose their pensions too.
All credit then to the BMA leadership for calling the first day of action on June 21st. But next we need co-ordinated action with the other unions to make sure we all win.
Dr Kambiz Boomla
Tower Hamlets BMA