First ballot on industrial action since 1975
UK doctors are threatening industrial action for the first time in 37 years as the row over pension reform gathers steam.
This week the British Medical Association (BMA) began posting ballot packs to more than 100,000 doctors across the UK asking them to vote on industrial action, the first time such a ballot has taken place since 1975.
The action, if it goes ahead, would initially take place over a 24-hour period, but the BMA insists it would not involve a full withdrawal of labour and all emergency and urgent care would still be provided.
The BMA argues that pension reforms proposed by the Government mean NHS staff will have to work for longer and contribute as much as 14.5% of their pay to their pensions, which it claims is almost twice as much as some other public sector workers on similar pay, for similar pensions.
It says the changes are being imposed without genuine negotiation.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “This is not where we set out to be – industrial action is only ever a last resort.
“However, the Government’s refusal to rethink its unnecessary reforms to a pension scheme that is already affordable and sustainable has left us with no alternative. We are not talking about a full withdrawal of labour. All emergency and urgent care would be provided, and doctors would still be at their usual places of work.”
But health minister Simon Burns said pension reform is necessary because people are living longer, healthier lives, and the proposals deliver a fair deal for both staff and taxpayers.
He said: "There is no justification for doctors to take industrial action. Industrial action, on anyone's part, will gain them nothing. We negotiated an agreement with the staff unions, including the BMA.”
He added: "Our proposals mean doctors will continue to receive pensions that are among the highest in the public or private sectors. A doctor joining the new scheme after 2015 could expect a pension of around £68,000 per year at state retirement age.”
Burns also said it was fair that higher earners pay greater contributions relative to those on lower and middle incomes.
The ballot opened yesterday and will close on May 29, with the results announced the following day.