Two trade unions have agreed to call off national ambulance strikes due to take place in England and Wales next week after talks with the government have been agreed.
On Thursday, ministers invited the NHS staff council, representing all trade unions, to join formal pay discussions to reach a “fair and reasonable” deal, but only if it agrees to call off all planned strike action “with immediate effect”.
A key point of contention for trade unions has been ministers’ refusal so far to discuss resuming pay talks for the current budget year, which ends in April.
More than 13,000 GMB ambulance workers were scheduled to go on strike on March 6 and 8. Some 32,000 health workers, including around 25,000 ambulance workers, who are part of the Unison trade union in England, were due to go on strike on March 8. are no longer taking place.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We want to start these talks as soon as possible and are ready to meet over the weekend. We want to find a fair and reasonable deal that recognizes the critical role of NHS workers, the wider economic pressures facing the UK and the Prime Minister’s priority of halving inflation.”
However, ambulance workers belonging to the Unite union in England will continue their strike action scheduled for March 6. Leaders said their members “refused to accept the government’s unreasonable preconditions” for talks of accepting a lump sum instead of a fixed payment. an increase for 2022-23, a proposal “worse than the deals proposed in Scotland and Wales”.
Unite national officer Onay Kasab said: “The NHS is on its knees and morale is at rock bottom, yet somehow the government seems to think that after weeks of striking for a better deal, workers will meekly sign off on talks that will not resolve the issue of living wage for 2022/23.”
The DHSC urged Unite “to call off strikes and join other unions at the negotiating table.”
The government’s offer to unions followed the GMB’s announcement earlier this week that it would cut insurance cover on strike days.
Rachel Harrison, the GMB’s national secretary, described the talks offer as “a huge change from a government that has refused to consider wage negotiations for months”. However, she warned that the strikes “will come back with a vengeance if the talks break down”.
The union said the health department has now agreed to discuss pay both this and next year, as well as improvements to other conditions.
The GMB said unions had received government assurances that “there is extra cash over and above existing budgets for both years”. Any deal would also be in line with the existing structure of the Agenda for Change, which is negotiating an estimated 1 million healthcare workers’ salaries.
Unions were furious at the government’s decision to start unilateral talks with the Royal College of Nursing last month after nurses agreed to suspend strikes. These talks are continuing.
Talks with other unions are expected to start early next week.
GMB members at the Welsh Ambulance also agreed to suspend strike action on Monday pending further discussions with the Welsh government and the regional ambulance fund.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said the government had “finally promised additional investment in salaries both this year and next”.
“The actual pay talks should have started months ago, long before the first strike was announced. This would avoid days of disruption for the NHS and its patients.”
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has also suspended its action scheduled for March 22 in England and will join the talks.