The Government has confirmed it is launching legal action against the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) over a planned strike in a long-running dispute about pay.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was “regretfully” applying to the High Court to declare industrial action planned for May 2 unlawful.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has argued the last day of the 48-hour walkout – starting on April 30 – breaches the six-month period in which the union can stage strikes.
Mr Barclay said: “Following a request from NHS Employers I am regretfully applying to the High Court to declare the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike action on 2 May unlawful.
“Despite attempts by my officials to resolve the situation over the weekend, I have been left with no choice but to proceed with legal action.
“I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law – but the Government cannot stand by and let a plainly unlawful strike action go ahead nor ignore the request of NHS Employers.
“We must also protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.”
In an email to RCN members working for the NHS in England, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen vowed to “stand up” to Government “bullies” in court.
But she confirmed that members would not be asked to strike on May 2 if the court rules in the Government’s favour.
Ms Cullen said: “Tonight, the threat sadly became a reality. We told the Government that this is wrong and indefensible. The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them – including in court.
“Before the end of the week, the court will decide whether to support this government’s use of draconian anti-trade union legislation.
“If the Government succeeds in silencing members like you and convinces the court to stop part of our strike, then we’ll have no choice but to cut it short.
“Our strike action has always been safe and legal. We would never ask our members to do anything unsafe or against your professional code.
“It’s so wrong for the Government to use taxpayers’ money to drag our profession through the courts.
“We’re determined to show that the nursing profession is strong and determined and defend our members’ right to strike.”
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