Ambulance workers in Wales have rejected an offer of higher pay from the principality’s administration in the latest blow to UK ministers’ hopes of curbing a public sector “winter of discontent” gripping the country.
Two-thirds of GMB union members who voted rejected the deal which would have given them an average pay rise of 5.5% and a one-off bonus of 1.5%. They will now join around 10,000 English ambulance workers in a mass strike on February 20.
Staff in key sectors, from train drivers to postal workers, have taken industrial action in recent months as inflation has far outstripped pay settlements.
The GMB said all 1,500 of its members at the Welsh Ambulance Service were likely to go on strike after management’s latest offer was rejected. This would have added an extra 3 percent to the existing deal, only half of which will be consolidated in next year’s talks.
Nathan Holman, head of GMB Welsh NHS, thanked the Welsh Government “for opening talks but if this is their final offer, it is too low for our members”. The UK government’s health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, must “step up and talk about payments now”, he added.
Last year, the government accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendation of an average rise of about 4 percent for health workers, but inflation has since reached double digits.
Unison, another union, also sought to increase pressure on the government by announcing that around 12,000 more health workers were now eligible to take part in strike action after re-polls passed the required threshold in four English ambulance services and five NHS organizations , including NHS Blood and Transplant, where it was initially not adhered to. The union described this as a “significant escalation of the dispute”.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said it was “time for the Prime Minister to abandon his ‘do nothing’ strategy to deal with escalating NHS strikes.”
He praised ministers in Scotland and Wales for talking to health unions and coming up with higher pay offers for this year. To the fury of unions, ministers have so far ruled out reopening the 2022-2023 wage settlement in England.
Indicating that the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood “really showed Westminster”, McAnea said health workers in Scotland had had their biggest pay rise this year “and are going to get a decent pay rise in April following their government’s latest offer”. .
The prime minister “needs to roll up his sleeves, invite the unions to Downing Street and start genuine talks on pay that could end this damaging row”, he added.
In another development, the NHS Confederation, which represents health organizations across England, has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggesting that if the government does not move forward with discussions on pay, his New Year pledge that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need faster’ may not be delivered.
Matthew Taylor, the confederation’s chief executive, and Victor Adebowale, president, noted that a decision by the Royal College of Nursing on Thursday to hold its first 48-hour strike next month and no longer exempt staff in critical areas such as A&E. and intensive, meant that the condition “has become more serious.”
Sunak should “urgently reconsider” his government’s stance “or risk compromising your key promise to reduce waiting lists”, they said.