Nurses, Paramedics Reach Pay Deal To End England Strikes

(AP) — Unions representing hundreds of thousands of nurses, ambulance crews and other health care workers in England reached a deal Thursday to resolve months of disruptive strikes for higher wages, though the pact didn’t include doctors.

The announcement came as early-career physicians spent a third day on picket lines and the day after UK Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt announced a budget that included no additional money for labour groups that have staged crippling strikes amid a punishing cost-of-living crisis and double-digit inflation.

Under the deal negotiated by government officials and union leaders, workers would get a lump sum payment for the current year and a five per cent raise next year. Any strike actions will be halted while rank-and-file members vote on whether to accept it.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the pact would reward hardworking National Health Service staff who persevered through the pandemic, and prevent further work stoppages.

“This offer is good for NHS staff, it’s good for the taxpayer and most importantly it is good news for patients whose care will no longer be disrupted by strike action,” Sunak said.

The head of the Royal College of Nursing, one of five unions supporting the deal, said pay offer vindicated nurses who made the difficult decision to go on strike, forcing the government to negotiate.

“It is not a panacea, but it is real, tangible progress, and the RCN’s member leaders are asking fellow nursing staff to support what our negotiations have secured,” Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said.

Unite, the largest trade union in the UK but with a smaller presence in the health care field, blasted the government for months of “dither and delay” that caused unnecessary pain to staff and patients and said it would not recommend the deal but let workers vote on it.

“It is clear that this government does not hold the interest of workers or the NHS at heart,” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said. “Their behaviour and disdain for NHS workers and workers generally is clear from their actions. Britain has a broken economy and workers are paying the price.”

Inflation in the UK dropped to 10.1 per cent in January, down from a 40-year high of 11.1 per cent in October. Skyrocketing food and energy costs have left some households struggling to pay their bills.

Unions argue that wages in the public sector have failed to keep pace with the soaring costs. But the Conservative government has argued that public sector pay increases of 10 per cent or more would drive inflation even higher.

A wave of strikes by train drivers, airport baggage handlers, border staff, driving instructors and postal workers since last summer has created havoc for residents.

Firefighters, who cancelled a planned strike, and London bus drivers recently reached deals to keep working. But many other professions remain locked in pay disputes. Tens of thousands of teachers, civil servants and workers on the capital’s subway system all walked off the job on Wednesday.