Around the World, Nurses are on the Frontline of the Fightback

Nurses provide some of the most vital health and care services in our society. This past year has seen several PSI affiliates representing nurses take industrial action. The action looks only set to continue into 2023 - until governments and employers listen to their demands, nurses will continue to fight back. 

All over the world, nurses confront the same intolerable conditions which have deteriorated even further since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Low pay, insufficient staffing levels, unfilled vaccines, high staff turnover and poor workplace health and safety. There is also a lack of significant investment in public healthcare services and the overreliance of some governments to outsource services to private providers. Providers who prioritise profits over the health and well-being of workers and patients leading to the virtual breakdown of healthcare systems and a record number of deaths and worse outcomes for patients. This is all occurring whilst the demand for nursing services soars. 

It is estimated that as many as 13 million more nurses may be needed by the year 2030

Burnout and stress have led to an exodus of nurses, record numbers are now leaving the sector further deepening the staffing crisis. It is estimated that as many as 13 million more nurses may be needed by 2030. To meet this figure governments and employers must take action to fix the workforce crisis by improving pay and conditions to match the rising cost of living, implementing workforce standards to ensure the safe delivery of care and investing properly in public systems of health and care. 

2022 has been a year that nurses gallantly fought back. Record numbers took industrial action all over the world. Below are just some of our affiliates whose members took the brave step to demand better pay, terms and conditions and for better services for their patients. 

Our affiliate the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union, went out on a nationwide strike back in May demanding that the government increase their salaries as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement they negotiated with authorities back in 2018. Disappointingly nurses and midwives who took industrial action were threatened with the termination of their contracts by the government. 

Also in June nurses in Zimbabwe, who had faced repression, including arbitrary detention in 2020 for challenging the government’s unilateral suspension of collective bargaining, were once again forced out on strike. Amid the backdrop of difficult economic conditions and soaring hyperinflation our affiliate the Zimbabwe Nurses Association mobilised members to fight back against low pay and poor conditions endemic in the healthcare sector. Nurses need a pay rise as many are unable able to support their families or afford to access the very healthcare services they work hard to provide. 

PSI stands in solidarity with all nurses taking industrial action

Over the summer our affiliates Tehy and SuPer in Finland have been involved in a long-running dispute with employers over pay and conditions. The two unions have been fighting for an increase in pay for members in response to the critical shortage of nurses across the health and care sector. However, employers rejected their claim leading Tehy and SuPer to announce a further series of strikes targeting a range of health facilities across the country in September. As a result of action by Tehy and SuPer secured a settlement that meets some of the demands as set out by members. 

In the US the Minnesota Nurses’ strike made headlines around the world as the largest private-sector nurses’ strike in the United States history. The Minnesota Nurses Association is a part of National Nurses United which is affiliated with PSI. In September 15,000 nurses participated in a historic three-day strike. They took action to address the dangerous levels of staffing in many health and care facilities. Negotiations continue for a fair contract that prioritizes safe patient care and reward nurses properly. 

Our affiliate New South Wales Nursing and Midwifery Association in Australia carried out its fourth state-wide strike in November. Fed up with inaction by the state government to address widespread staffing and workloads issues, thousands of nurses and midwives walked off the job. Throughout the year, members have been fighting for safe staffing levels, better working conditions and fair pay to recognise their contribution to the healthcare system.

In South Africa our affiliate the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa was part of a cross-union effort to mobilise public sector workers in November. Nurses joined other public sector workers across South Africa in a ‘National Day of Action’ to put forward a demand of 10% in line with inflation.

Enough is enough. Action must be taken to fix the staffing crisis, invest properly in public health and care services and pay nurses what they deserve

Our affiliate UNISON which represents healthcare workers including nurses across the UK is supporting members as they fight for a new pay deal. Nurses working in the National Health System have suffered years of real-term pay cuts due to the rising levels of inflation and cost of living. Specifically, in England, nurses are making history as it is the first time they have voted to take nationwide industrial action. Strikes are planned for December where nurses and other healthcare workers will walk out whilst still ensuring that critical services are maintained.

Nurses continue to go above and beyond to put patient care ahead of their own basic needs. PSI stands in solidarity with all nurses taking industrial action. This is coming up within the period that the International Labour Conference received the report of the ILO General Survey on the Nursing Personnel Convention, 1977 (No. 149) and the Nursing Personnel Recommendation, 1977 (No. 157). As the global union federation for the health and care sector, including nurses, the contributions of PSI and its affiliates in the survey were quite significant and should now be taken into cognisance by governments.

Enough is enough. Action must be taken to fix the staffing crisis, invest properly in public health and care services and pay nurses what they deserve. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with all health and care workers fighting for better pay, terms and conditions. 

If you are an affiliate of PSI and are taking industrial action please get in contact with the relevant policy officer which you can find here: Contacts - PSI - The global union federation of workers in public services.