The Welsh Government has been accused of effectively starting a new pay dispute with unions representing health organisations before resolving its current disagreement.
That claim made by Plaid Cymru's leader Adam Price was rejected by Lesley Griffiths, who stood-in for Mark Drakeford during First Minister's Questions following the death of his wife.
Ms Griffiths said ministers were currently doing all they could do to find extra money for higher pay rises.
Many health workers are set to strike next Monday 6 February over pay and working conditions.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the Health Minister said all was being done to try and avoid industrial action and the Welsh Government would be working up to the last moment to try and resolve the issue.
However during First Minister's Questions, Mr Price said the NHS pay round process for 2023/24 was triggered by Welsh Government sending a remit letter to the NHS Pay Review Body, which sets salary levels.
Mr Price highlighted that the letter was sent on the same day unions stated that they no longer trust the review body process, effectively starting a new disagreement.
He said: "The Welsh Government's evidence to the pay-review body, along with the letter, was sent on the same day (11 January) that the health unions said that they were no longer prepared to engage with a review-body process they no longer trusted, calling instead for direct negotiations with the Government for next year.
"Why, effectively, begin a new dispute with the unions over next year's pay even before this year's pay dispute is resolved? How is that going to rebuild the trust of the workforce?
“In pointing the blame at lack of increased funding from Westminster, Welsh Government has once again hidden behind the UK Government, whilst failing to acknowledge the power that lies in their own hands, through taxation.
"In failing to allow the Pay Review Body to even consider this, Welsh Government is misrepresenting the options available to increase pay.
“The evidence provided to the Pay Review Body paints a sobering picture of the NHS: Vacancies up; Sickness rates up; Agency spending up; Leaving rates up.
"The only thing going down is the morale of the staff and their trust in this Labour Welsh Government. The question that they are yet to answer satisfactorily is what they intend to do about it."
In response to the claim, Lesley Griffiths said "as you know, the Minister for Health and Social Services continues to engage with trade unions. I know her officials have met with the trade unions today and I think they're planning to meet again next week.
"We want to keep our door open; we want to continue to have discussions to, obviously, support our NHS staff. As you said, the Minister now is looking to the next year, because in the process you have to do that but, I think what is really important is, unlike England, we have kept that engagement with our trade unions to ensure that they do feel listened to."
She added that "across the Welsh Government every Minister is looking at what more funding we can bring forward—we're looking at our underspends and we're looking at our reserves—to try to put more money into that pot of money that we want to give not just to our NHS staff, but to our teachers and public service workers. If that happens, we won't be able to do other things.
"So, I don't want to underestimate the work that we are doing, as a Welsh Government, to try to bring a resolution to this."
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