Who is still on strike? Why a new pay offer does not mean the end of industrial action

  • GMB Welsh NHS Lead, Nathan Holman, explains where the union currently stands.

Most NHS strikes have been called off just days before they were due to take place following talks with the Welsh Government.

Nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and some ambulance workers had planned to strike over a dispute about pay and conditions.

However, the GMB union, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) confirmed they will not go ahead on Monday and Tuesday (February 6 & 7). Talks began between health unions and the government to try to end their pay dispute on Thursday (February 2).

The GMB union stated industrial action by ambulance workers had been suspended to allow further negotiations to take place, but other ambulance workers from Unite are still planning to go ahead with its strikes on Monday and Tuesday.

General secretary from the union, Sharon Graham, explained: "It would be wholly premature for Unite to talk about any deals being done in relation to the Welsh ambulance dispute.

"As far as Unite is concerned 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. However, we are not in that place now. So, at the moment Unite's ambulance workers will be on strike on Monday", she added.

The RCM also suspended action short of a strike planned from 7-14 February. It added they will now "move quickly to consult its midwife and maternity support worker members on the new offer".

Julie Richards, RCM Director for Wales, said: “This has come about because of the determination of our members to make their voices heard and their readiness to take action. It brought the Welsh Government to the table and led to this offer.

“It is important that our members now have their say and the decision to accept or reject this offer lies them. We are pausing this action in good faith so that other issues - such as pressures on staff and working conditions – can also be addressed. Make no mistake though, 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.”

  • What has been offered?

The deal amounts to a 1.5% non-consolidated and 1.5% consolidated one off payment for 22/23 - on top of the already imposed 4.5%. The Welsh Government has confirmed negotiations for 23/24 will begin "almost immediately".

Almost 1,500 workers across the country had been due to walk out alongside nurses on Monday.

Nathan Holman, GMB Welsh NHS lead 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.

"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. We are a member led union, ultimately they will decide."

The original offer from the Welsh Government for midwives and MSWs was a 4% pay increase recommended by the NHS Pay review Body. The latest offer will give NHS midwives and MSWs a consolidated 1.5 per cent on top, plus a non-consolidated 1.5 per cent.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy also announced it had paused its strikes following the breakthrough.

Nurses reached a pay deal with the government earlier this year. Credit: PA

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the Welsh Government explained: "An enhanced pay offer has been made to our health trade unions. On this basis, we are hopeful that the planned industrial action over Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 February will be postponed, allowing trade unions to discuss the proposals further with their members. Individual trade unions will confirm their intentions regarding next week’s action, prior to further talks with their members.

"This revised pay offer comprises an additional 3%, of which 1.5% is consolidated so will be in pay packets year-on-year, on top of the Pay Review Body recommendations, which have already been implemented in full. This offer will be backdated to April 2022. Included in this revised package are a number of non-pay commitments to enhance staff well-being, on which negotiations will continue next week.

"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. We would like to thank those that have participated in the negotiations for their positive engagement and goodwill. We are awaiting a formal response from each of the individual trade unions."

Responding to the Welsh Government's written statement on the NHS pay offer, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price MS said: “This improved pay offer is a step in the right direction by the Welsh Government which has repeatedly denied that it had any extra money. But a consolidated pay rise of 6% is well below inflation and below the Scottish Government’s pay offer.

“Yet again, after a decade of real terms cuts to their wages, NHS staff are being asked to accept a further fall in living standards.  What we need from the Welsh Government instead is a long-term workforce plan with a real commitment to  a real pay rise so we can begin to rebuild morale and end the crisis of recruitment and retention that risks overwhelming the entire NHS.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS stated: “This only goes to show that the Labour Government had the money all along to give NHS workers a better pay offer.

“It is also welcome to see staff welfare being included as part of this package, as we have called for, because we know that poor working conditions has hit morale really hard, with many reporting burnout. Hopefully, we will see an end to this dispute soon and Labour can get on with fixing the record long A&E and ambulance waiting times that have occurred on their watch.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats welcomed the news that a number of strikes by healthcare workers have been postponed. Party Leader Jane Dodds said: “We have always argued that our healthcare staff need to be valued, not just with moral support but making sure they are valued financially. This is especially important if we are to solve the retention and recruitment crisis in the NHS.

“6 per cent however still sits below inflation and below the Scottish Government’s offer. No side will ever be 100% happy with the outcome in these negotiations, but it is important to try and reach a compromise.

“Looking towards the longer term we need to see the UK Conservative Government recognise when setting budgets, the additional financial pressures Wales has when it comes to healthcare, in particular the fact that Wales has an older and sicker population than other parts of the UK, in part due to the legacy of industrial activity.”