Health worker strikes suspended


Published: Tuesday 27th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Planned strikes by health workers in a row over pay have been suspended after a breakthrough in talks.

Members of Unison, the GMB and Unite were due to walk out in England and Northern Ireland on Thursday and again next month in protest at the Government’s refusal to accept a recommended 1% wage rise for all NHS staff.

Extensive talks between union leaders and officials at the Health Department led to fresh proposals which will now be put to workers.

The offer is believed to include a consolidated 1% payment for staff up to senior level, an additional £200 consolidated payment for lower paid staff, the first point on the pay scale to be abolished and the second raised to £15,100.

There is also a commitment from the Government to the NHS Pay Review Body, which will continue to make future recommendations on pay increases for NHS staff in 2016/17.

Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said: “The two strike days staged by health workers last year have moved the government to negotiate with the unions.

“This isn’t a great offer but it addresses some of the key concerns unions have about low pay in the NHS. In the interest of patients’ safety unions will now consult members.

“It will be up to members to decide whether to accept or reject the proposals. If they choose to reject them we will move to further industrial action.”

The GMB said it will consult 22,000 of its members in the NHS in England and Northern Ireland on the new offer that emerged after a week of talks.

A national meeting of the union’s NHS committee will take place on February 4, when a timetable for a consultation will be agreed.

National officer Rehana Azam said: “GMB is pleased that after a week of talks we have secured a new offer. This enables us to suspend the strike action while we consult with our members on whether they wish to accept the offer or not.”

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, which was planning a two-hour stoppage on Thursday, said: “I am pleased the Government came to the negotiating table to seek a solution. I believe this offer represents the best that can be achieved by negotiations and we will consult with members in England.

“Midwives are caring people who work long hours to give excellent care to women and their babies, often working beyond their shift and through their breaks. Even during our industrial action midwives have maintained safety for women and their families. They deserve to be valued by Government and employers.

“We hope that now we have agreements in Scotland and Wales and an offer in England, we can achieve the same in Northern Ireland.”

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ” This decision goes some way to alleviate the concerns of staff by honouring the independent pay review body’s recommendation for a 1% consolidated rise and helping some of the lowest paid NHS staff.

“The NHS has an army of loyal, committed staff working under unprecedented pressure for their patients, who do not take action lightly. This proposal is an important and much deserved acknowledgement of their dedication.

“This is a positive start, but there is more to be done. The Government must not let today’s breakthrough go to waste by ignoring the immense pressure and stress NHS staff are under because of chronic understaffing. The only solution to the recruitment crisis which is hammering staff morale and patient care is a sensible long-term workforce strategy with fair pay at its core.”

Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail said: “Following talks we have suspended industrial action and called off Thursday’s strike to consult with our members over the coming days.

“The offer moves the NHS towards becoming a living wage employer and begins to address issues around low pay.

“Members will decide on whether to accept or reject the offer of what we believe is the best that can be achieved by negotiation.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “We are delighted that the strike has been called off. It is the right decision for patients and puts us all in a better position to start talking about long-term solutions.

“Unfortunately, many patients will already have been disrupted where it was necessary to safely reschedule their non-urgent appointments.

“If the unions proceed to fully accept the proposed pay agreement, it will demonstrate a commitment and signal the start of a period of negotiations to deliver long-term pay reform in the NHS. This needs to ensure that the pay system helps the NHS to provide better, safer and more responsive services to patients and lead to a more efficient use of NHS resources.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This is good news for patients, and I welcome the unions calling off strike action. We have consistently said that we wouldn’t agree a pay deal that risked frontline jobs and therefore patient safety. This offer achieves that – the NHS pay bill will not increase next year, while we reward hardworking staff.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s only because health workers showed that, if necessary, they were prepared to take industrial action that ministers agreed to come to the negotiating table.

“No wonder the Government wants to make it harder for unions to ballot for strike action.”

Published: Tuesday 27th January 2015 by The News Editor

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