Some 3,000 junior doctors in Wales took to picket lines this week, spreading the fight over NHS pay to a new front.
Doctors walked out for 72 hours on Monday morning. A major rally outside the Welsh Senedd parliament was set to take place as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday.
The doctors’ BMA Cymru Wales union is demanding “pay restoration” because real terms pay has been slashed by around a third since 2008.
The Labour-run government has offered sympathy—and a pathetic 5 percent rise. That’s the lowest rise of any British government.
Some junior doctors in Wales earn as little as £13.65 an hour over a 40-hour week, even after years of training that often leaves them with debts of over £100,000.
Gaynor Barret, a junior doctor from Monmouth joined the picket line at Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthenshire. She said there was a misconception about doctors’ pay.
“When we start out it’s actually lower pay than a lot of jobs,” she told the BBC. “My older daughter has actually just started at Network Rail at a higher rate than when I started out,” she added.
Another doctor said pay is the “primary measure of how your employer values you as an employee.
“So having pay as low as it is means doctors don’t feel valued. Further pay erosion this year is just an absolute kick in the teeth for doctors.”
Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey of the BMA, are furious.
“After years of undervaluing our lifesaving service we feel we’ve been left with no choice but to stand up for the profession and say enough is enough”, they said in a statement.
The Welsh government is trying to palm off the issue of low pay saying that it’s a “Westminster problem”.
“The UK government has failed, over the last 13 years, to properly fund public services,” says health minister Eluned Morgan.
That’s true, but there is an alternative to the Welsh government passing on Tory cuts.
It could refuse to stick to the imposed spending limits and decide to give the NHS more resources.
Such a move would take brave leadership and would require mobilising hundreds of thousands of people in support. But it would be immensely popular.
Instead, Labour in Wales is nothing but a warning about what junior doctors and the NHS can expect from a future Labour government across Britain.
Consultant doctors in the HCSA union have rejected a pay offer by 58 percent. Members of the BMA union are voting on the offer until 23 January.