Welsh NHS strikes: Most health unions suspend industrial action

Health Minister Eluned Morgan has offered eight health unions an extra 3% on top of the £1,400 already promised.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and GMB union ambulance staff have put walkouts next week on hold.

However strikes by other union members, including Unite, are still going ahead.

The Welsh Ambulance Service has said 20 military personnel will be drafted in to help drive ambulances during the upcoming Unite strike on 6 and 7 February.

Chief executive of the ambulance service, Jason Killens, said: “We understand the reasons for strike action and thank the Welsh government for their commitment to finding a resolution which has got us this far.

“That said, with two days of action still planned by Unite, we would ask the public to think very carefully before calling 999 next week.”

The Welsh government has tabled a new deal of an extra 3% – backdated to April 2022, of which 1.5% is consolidated.

This means they will receive 3% this year and 1.5% extra pay the year after.

“Included in this revised package are a number of non-pay commitments to enhance staff wellbeing, on which negotiations will continue next week,” a spokesperson said.

“Whilst there is currently no improved pay offer on the table for NHS staff in England, it was also agreed that any resulting Barnett consequential following any improved offer to staff in England would result in a further pay offer to staff in Wales.”

The Welsh government said it was awaiting formal responses from each union – who will put the offer to members – and said it hoped strike action planned for next week would be called off.

The enhanced package has been welcomed by the Welsh NHS Confederation.

Welsh Conservatives said the new deal proved the Labour government “had the money all along” to give NHS workers better pay.

Wales’ biggest health union welcomed the improved pay offer for all NHS Wales staff.

It said members would vote on the deal early next week but talks with the Welsh government would continue over working conditions.

“We are absolutely determined to get the best possible deal for our nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, paramedics, cleaners, porters, catering staff, admin staff and many more,” said Hugh McDyer, of Unison Cymru Wales.

“After the way they worked throughout the pandemic and how they respond magnificently in a daily challenging situation, it is the least they deserve.”

‘Strikes worked’

The RCN has called off strikes planned for Monday and Tuesday and said it will put the new deal to a vote of members in Wales in the coming days.

RCN Wales director Helen Whyley said: “Our strike action in December has clearly been effective as the Welsh government has listened to the issues facing nursing in Wales and put forward an increased offer.

“Industrial action continues to be a last resort for nurses, and I have heard their stories of the personal sacrifice they make every day fighting for safe care for their patients that pushed them to vote for strike action.”

Nurses in England are still due to walk out on 6 and 7 February.

The Royal College of Midwives has suspended action in Wales on Tuesday but director Julia Richards warned: “Make no mistake, we still have a very strong mandate for industrial action and will not hesitate to take it if our members reject the offer, or if planned talks do not move forward as promised.”

Ambulance staff who were members of the GMB had planned to take industrial action on four dates in February and March, starting Monday.

The GMB represents about a quarter of the ambulance service in Wales, including paramedics, call room staff and ambulance technicians.

But about 1,500 union members planning to strike on Monday will now be paused.

GMB and Welsh NHS lead Nathan Holman said: “We appreciate the frank and open dialogue over the last few months.

“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.”

‘Premature to call off action’

Unite represents about 25% of all ambulance staff in Wales and said members would still strike on Monday, unless a better deal is agreed over the weekend.

“It would be wholly premature for Unite to talk about any deals being done in relation to the Welsh ambulance dispute,” said general secretary Sharon Graham.

“Negotiations are continuing. Unite will be available all weekend in the hope that a satisfactory offer can be put together to avert strikes next week.”

Thousands of ambulance workers have been holding walkouts since December, with GMB members only responding to life-threatening calls.

Staff staged two strikes in January as part of their calls for better pay, above inflation.

It put increasing pressure on the Welsh government as strikes left the service “seriously disrupted”.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has also paused its plans for a strike on Tuesday after what it described as a “breakthrough” in talks.

“The Welsh government did what we asked them to and came to the table for meaningful talks,” said the senior negotiating officer for Wales, Adam Morgan.

“We feel it is important to return the good faith shown by the government and allow time for negotiations to continue.”