NHS workers in Wales have called off a strike on Monday after the Cardiff government raised its pay offer, increasing pressure on prime minister Rishi Sunak to follow suit ahead of the biggest-ever week of walkouts by staff in England.
The GMB union and the Royal College of Nursing said on Friday that they had suspended the planned industrial action following a revised pay deal from the Welsh government.
The new offer consists of an extra 3 per cent, of which 1.5 per cent will be consolidated and the rest a non-consolidated, one-off payment. It will be backdated to April 2022 and comes on top of a £1,400 increase already awarded to health workers in line with pay review body recommendations.
The Welsh government’s move will add to pressure on Sunak to boost NHS pay in England, ahead of what is set to be the largest week of strike action in the history of the health service.
Five unions have called or are organising walkouts expected to involve thousands of ambulance staff, nurses and physiotherapists.
Although earlier this month he did not rule out one-off payments for NHS workers in England, Sunak has repeatedly argued against raising public sector pay. He has said that any increase risks worsening inflation, which in December stood at 10.5%.
Health secretary Steve Barclay last month signalled to unions that he would examine the case for backdating this year’s pay rise.
But in recent days the UK government has reiterated its commitment to focusing on pay talks for the forthcoming 2023-24 financial year, rather than reopening or altering the agreed recommendations for 2022-23.
In an interview with Piers Morgan on Talk TV on Thursday, Sunak said: “I would love to give nurses a massive pay rise. Who wouldn’t? Certainly that would make my life easier, wouldn’t it?”
“It’s about choices. So right now, money going into the NHS [is the] biggest it’s ever been, but we have to put that in lots of different places. We need to hire more doctors, more nurses. We need more scanning equipment so we can detect cancers.”
Thanking the unions for “constructive” talks, Wales’s health minister Eluned Morgan said she hoped the pay award would go “some way to recognise their hard work”.
But she added: “Without additional funding from the UK government, there are inevitably limits to how far we can go in Wales.”
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said Cardiff’s decision left Sunak with “no place to hide”, adding: “If the other governments can negotiate and find more money for this year, the prime minister can do the same.”
Nathan Holman, GMB Welsh NHS lead, described the outcome of the “intense negotiations” as “a lesson for those in charge on the other side of the Severn Bridge”.
The strike, which was announced in January, by the GMB and RCN in Wales would have involved about 1,500 ambulance workers and seen nurses walk out for 12 hours.
Unite the union said its ambulance members in Wales would go ahead with strikes on February 6 because talks were “continuing”.
“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. “Unite will be available all weekend in the hope that a satisfactory offer can be put together to avert strikes next week.”