Health unions made a dramatic offer on Saturday night to call off a wave of planned strikes that threaten to paralyze the NHS over Christmas and New Year if ministers agree to start serious discussions on pay.
The actions of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the country’s largest union, Unison, are the first signs of flexibility on both sides in a dispute that has been stalemate for weeks.
the Observer he has been told that rather than insist on increases that match or, for nurses, 5% more than inflation, unions would seriously consider deals similar to those that have already led to strike suspensions in Scotland.
There, the threat of general strikes throughout the National Health Service it has been lifted after the government offered healthcare workers between 5% and 11% at Holyrood, depending on grades.
In a statement to the ObserverPat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, which is due to take 100,000 of its members out on strike on Thursday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said she was prepared to “hit a pause” on industrial action if the health secretary , Steve Barclayagreed to meet to reach an agreement.
The unions say Barclay has held only two meetings with them in recent weeks, both times refusing to discuss wages. Instead, they say, she has diverted the discussion to other issues of working conditions. The RCN said it has had no communication with Barclay’s department for a week.
“Negotiate with the nurses and avoid this strike,” Cullen said. “Five times my offer to negotiate has been rejected.” He added: “I will press a pause when the health secretary says he will seriously negotiate on our dispute this year. That means each of us giving up some ground. He gains nothing by ignoring representatives of the NHS workforce. The public blames the government for this terrible situation and they have to face it. A quick change in tactics will pay off for everyone involved.”
strikes in scotland have been suspended after the Holyrood government made offers of between 5% and 11% depending on the grade. Unison has recommended acceptance of the offer north of the border to its members, while the RCN has taken a neutral position and also voted on the new offer to members.
Unison secretary general Christina McAnea said a Scotland-style offer for NHS workers south of the border “could well” mean strike threats are lifted. “Instead of scaring the public about the consequences of the strikes, the health secretary should come up with genuine plans to improve wages,” she said.
“Sitting down with the healthcare unions and improving the wage offer has suspended strikes across Scotland. If Steve Barclay were to mirror Holyrood’s approach and pledge to raise wages this year, the threat of strikes before Christmas may well be gone. But the ball is firmly in the government’s court. Ministers know what they need to do to avoid disruptions later this month.”
The two planned walkouts by nurses across the NHS will be followed by a series of strikes by ambulance service staff belonging to the Unison, Unite and GMB unions on December 21 and by GMB members alone on December 28. december.
NHS bosses are privately alarmed at the impact of the ambulance staff strikes, as patients are already being harmed, and in some cases dying, as a direct result of ambulance response times to calls to 999, which are already the worst recorded.
On Monday, the results of the vote for the strike involving NHS midwives and physiotherapists will be made public, as action among health workers threatens to spread.
on friday Guardian, cullen described Barclay as a “thug” for his refusal to negotiate. But it also gave a clear indication that the RCN would drop its months-long quest for a wage increase equal to 5% above inflation if the health secretary dropped his insistence that the government cannot afford to improve its offer of a at least £1,400 per head by 2022/23.
If the pay talks did happen, “negotiations will inevitably involve give and take on each side. I will not intervene if they do not intervene. But they need to come to the table with me,” Cullen said. He reiterated his willingness to review the union’s wage claim if Barclay enters into wage negotiations.
The government offer is worth around 4% for more than 1 million (all except doctors and dentists) whose terms and conditions are set out in the longstanding UK-wide Agenda For Change deal. However, if ministers were to increase that, they would have to find a potentially significant amount of additional money to secure a deal, as each additional 1% in NHS staff pay costs around £700m.
Labor has indicated in recent days that it supports a more generous deal for NHS workers and has accused the government of deliberately “stuffing a fight” with unions by accusing them of “holding Christmas as ransom”. The unions, however, are determined to show they are not the sticklers and are only fighting for a near-inflation wage increase, after years of seeing wages stagnant.
The Department of Health and Social Care was requested for comment.