Introducing the BMA strike fund

by BMA council member Joanna Sutton-Klein

A growing strike fund will support doctors facing financial pressure and help us win the fight for fair pay and working conditions

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 21 March 2023

For the first time in the BMA’s history, we are in the process of creating a strike fund. With pay falling, the cost of living rising and industrial action looming, there has never been a more important time to get the long-awaited strike fund up and running.

What is a strike fund?

 A strike fund is a pot of money which is distributed to striking workers to partially make up for the pay their employer deducts when they are on strike, to reduce the financial pressures on people to cross the picket line.

There are many different ways strike funds can be funded and operated. The BMA strike fund is a central pot of money that will be distributed to some doctors – those who will be in the most financial difficulty – so they will still be able take part in industrial action.

Why do we need a strike fund?

When workers go on strike, their employers usually deduct the strike day’s pay. (It is not universally the case that workers lose pay. In some countries it is expected that they will be paid. There are also some forms of action which mean that workers don’t lose pay.)

This loss of pay can mean that workers feel financial pressure to cross the picket line and undermine the strike by going in to work. Workers who are already in precarious financial situations will be more affected by the loss of pay and feel more pressure to cross the picket line. A strike fund is one of the tools that trade unions create to keep workers on the picket line, which increases our power and helps us to win.

We need to do everything possible to save colleagues from crossing the picket line. The more colleagues who feel pressured to go into work, the weaker our campaign for full pay restoration becomes.

What will the BMA’s strike fund look like in the long term?

We are developing what will be the BMA’s first strike fund strategy. It will take a medium- to long-term approach to fundraising for the BMA strike fund, with fundraising activity embedded into our daily operations as a trade union. This will include exploring how to integrate strike fund contributions into BMA subscriptions.

We’d like to create a sustainable strike fund that will be able to support doctors to take regular industrial action whenever cuts to our pay or working conditions are threatened.

What does it look like at the moment?

The current BMA strike fund is still in its infancy, and in the future we would love it to be able to support more people. However, we are optimistic that it will grow quickly.

There are two key elements that we’ve thought about when designing the strike fund: how to put money into the pot, and how to distribute it.

Putting money into the pot

To raise money for the strike fund, we have short- and long-term plans:

  • Fundraising through one-off donations on the strike fund website
  • Fundraising campaigns asking colleagues to donate the equivalent of their hourly salary every month into the strike fund
  • Honoraria donations: BMA committee members who receive honoraria are being asked to donate their honoraria to the strike fund
  • Long term, we are working towards having strike fund payments integrated into BMA subscriptions, as many other unions do.

Distributing funds during the current junior doctor dispute

With regard to distributing funds, we’ve made the following considerations:

  • Our strike fund is currently small, and while we wish we were in a position to offer pay to everyone who needs strike pay, we need to be clear that we are unlikely to be able to do that for the next few months at least
  • We do not want to make promises to pay people that we are unable to fulfil
  • Financial hardship is extremely nuanced and sensitive to measure – there is no universally accepted way to assess who is the most financially precarious, and we do not think the BMA has the resources or authority to make judgements on who needs the strike fund the most.

What’s next?

  • The Strike Fund will be made available from the second set of strikes onwards for each BMA branch of practice.

  • There will be a simple form to fill out to apply for the strike fund, which will make clear that we have very limited funds and that only those who are unable to strike without receiving strike fund payments should apply
  • Payments will be £50 per day of strike action, and will be contingent on sending in a payslip showing that pay was deducted
  • And most importantly, we will keep working on it. This is the first time we’ve created a strike fund and we’ll take every opportunity to refine and improve how it works for our members.

Currently the strike fund is funded through voluntary donations. The administration costs are covered by the main BMA budget, so 100% of donations to the strike fund will go to members.

If you have ideas for developing the strike fund, then let us know by emailing [email protected].