Wales Nursing and Ambulance Strikes Postponed After New Pay Offer

Wales Nursing and Ambulance Strikes Postponed After New Pay Offer
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive Pat Cullen joins RCN members on the picket line outside University College Hospital, London, on Jan. 19, 2023. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Media)
Alexander Zhang

Unions have agreed to postpone the planned strikes by nurses and ambulance workers in Wales next week after the Welsh government made a new pay offer.

The GMB union announced on Friday that it will suspend its strike action in Wales planned for Monday, while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) cancelled its walkout scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. But the unions’ members in England will go ahead with strikes on the same days.

A strike by physiotherapists in Wales on Tuesday has also been called off.

The Welsh government has offered an additional 3 percent increase for staff members of the National Health Service (NHS) for 2022–2023, the unions said.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “Following continued discussions over the last week, we are pleased to announce that an enhanced pay offer has been made to our health trade unions.”

PM ‘Has No Place Left to Hide’

The RCN said it will put the new offer to a vote of its members and called on the UK government to reopen negotiations on the NHS pay award in England for the current financial year.

The RCN will escalate its strike action in England next week, with action at 73 NHS trusts compared to 44 in December and 55 in January.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “If the other governments can negotiate and find more money for this year, the prime minister can do the same. [Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak has no place left to hide. His unwillingness to help nursing is being exposed as a personal choice, not an economic necessity.

“Again, we are making good on our commitment to cancel strikes when ministers negotiate and make pay offers to our members. First in Scotland and now in Wales too. If the prime minister decides to leave England’s nurses as the lowest paid in the UK, he must expect this strike to continue. He can still turn things around before Monday—start talking seriously and the strikes are off.”

GMB official Nathan Holman said: “After intense negotiations, GMB has agreed to suspend strike action while further talks take place. We recognise that the Welsh government and Welsh Ambulance have made concessions and, through social partnership, we appreciate the frank and open dialogue with them over the last few months.”

He also urged the UK government to follow the footsteps of Wales’s Labour government.

“This has only been made possible because the Welsh government has been prepared to talk about pay—a lesson for those in charge on the other side of the Severn Bridge.”

Rail Strike Continues

Industrial action on railways continued on Friday. Train driver members of the Aslef union and the Rail, Maritime, and Transport union (RMT) left large parts of the country with no services all day, as operators such as Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Northern, and Southern are not running any trains.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Aslef union, said train drivers might enter a second or even third year of striking as they have not had a pay rise in four years.

Asked how much longer union members can financially sustain striking, he told LBC radio: “I think we’re in this for the long haul.”

He told LBC that Aslef has made no progress in resolving its dispute with the government in six months of striking.

Asked how likely it was that a deal could be struck during talks next week, he said: “We want a resolution. My people don’t want to be losing money, they don’t want to be standing out in the cold.”

Rail Delivery Group chair Steve Montgomery said he is “hopeful” that the latest offer to the RMT union will stop its strikes.

He told Sky News that the RMT is already consulting its members on the offer, but added that the dispute with Aslef was “going backwards.”

“We all understand that we want to give our staff a pay increase, naturally important particularly in these economic climates. But drivers’ average wages are £60,000 ($72,436) at this moment. We are offering up to £65,000 over two years. That’s quite a significant increase for people.”

Montgomery apologised to passengers for the “very limited service” across the country on Friday and said the disruption would last “all day,” with some services starting “slightly later” on Saturday morning.

‘Fair to All Taxpayers’

The UK saw the biggest single day of strikes in a decade on Wednesday, with up to half a million workers, including teachers, civil servants, train and bus drivers, and university staff.

Downing Street said the government wants to hold more talks with unions to avert further strike action.

Asked what Rishi Sunak is doing to sort out the industrial action, his official spokesman said: “We want to have further talks with the unions. Some of those discussions have been constructive. We have to balance that against the need to be fair to all taxpayers, the majority of whom don’t work for the public sector.”

PA Media contributed to this report.