Sunak’s gamble to end strike chaos: Nurses call off walkout after the PM makes a U-turn and says ministers WILL negotiate pay deals as patients ‘breathe a sigh of relief’
- The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called off a 48-hour walkout in England
- The strike was due to start next week but the RCN said it was ‘confident’ of a deal
Rishi Sunak took a dramatic gamble to end months of strike chaos last night by giving the green light for larger pay rises for NHS workers and teachers.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called off a 48-hour walkout in England due to start next Wednesday, saying it was ‘confident’ a deal could be struck and that patients can ‘breathe a sigh of relief’.
There were hopes last night that education union bosses could follow suit in the coming days.
But the GMB and Unison unions, which represent ambulance staff, said further walkouts would go ahead.
In a fresh push to end crippling walkouts, the Prime Minister and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday signed off a fresh negotiating mandate for Health Secretary Stephen Barclay and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called off a 48-hour walkout in England due to start next Wednesday
Rishi Sunak took a dramatic gamble to end months of strike chaos last night by giving the green light for larger pay rises for NHS workers and teachers
It will allow them to reopen this financial year’s pay settlement, which has been a key union demand resisted by the Government until now.
But sources said any extra cash would come in the form of a one-off payment, potentially backdated to April last year.
Pay settlements for next year and the year after will also be up for discussion in what could end up being a three-year package.
It is understood ministers are likely to be allowed to offer pay rises of only up to 5 per cent for this year and next – a maximum total of 10 per cent – after Treasury economists warned bigger increases risked fuelling inflation.
Mr Barclay has previously insisted that the 4 per cent increase given to nurses this year was the best and final offer and not up for renegotiation.
A Whitehall source said the Government had budged from its refusal to reopen last year’s pay settlement because of the ‘constructive’ approach adopted by the RCN, which initially demanded 19 per cent pay hikes. The source said: ‘The nurses have come a long way down from their original demand for 19 per cent but they have also been constructive and reasonable, recognising that our affordability concerns are real.’
But the move risks being seen as a climbdown from Mr Hunt and Mr Sunak by Tory MPs, who have called on the pair to stand firm against union bosses.
RCN boss Pat Cullen, who will get around the table with Mr Barclay today, was upbeat last night.
THE RCN said it was ‘confident’ a deal could be struck and that patients can ‘breathe a sigh of relief’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has previously insisted that the 4 per cent increase given to nurses this year was the best and final offer and not up for renegotiation
Nurses hold placards in support of fair pay during the demonstration at the picket outside St Thomas’ Hospital
NHS Nurses from the Royal College of Nursing form a picket line as they strike for safe staffing levels, fair pay and working conditions outside St Thomas Hospital
She said: ‘I’m confident that we will be able to reach agreement about a fair pay deal for our nursing staff.
‘The final detail has to be worked out, but I’m very assured by the Prime Minister’s intervention.’ Asked if further strikes were now ‘unlikely’, she said: ‘I’m entering this in good faith. I think this is a significant step forward. Every nurse in England today can breathe a sigh of relief and more importantly our patients can, so let’s get round the table tomorrow.
‘I’m very confident with the move from the Government, and certainly we will do our very best to make sure a fair pay deal is obtained for all of our nurses.’
The next industrial action pencilled in for nurses was due to last 48 hours from Wednesday morning next week. The walkouts would have also included nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempted.
The National Education Union (NEU) did not call off strikes scheduled for March 1, 2, 15 and 16, a mixture of national and regional walkouts. But it left open the door to doing so, hinting that the decision ‘could change’.
It came after Ms Keegan wrote to the education unions calling for ‘formal talks’ to begin on pay, conditions and reform, on the grounds they call off the walkouts.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘We are willing to talk at any time, but there is nothing substantial in the secretary of state’s letter that suggests to us we should call off strikes for next week.
‘However, our national executive meets on Saturday, and they could change that decision. There is time for the Department for Education to make clear that they will talk about pay rises for this school year and would fund those potential pay rises.’
RCN boss Pat Cullen said: ‘I’m confident that we will be able to reach agreement about a fair pay deal for our nursing staff’
Ms Cullen said: ‘The final detail has to be worked out, but I’m very assured by the Prime Minister’s intervention’
Most state school teachers in England and Wales had a 5 per cent pay rise in the current financial year, but the union has been pushing for more.
It came as the Government said it could afford to give police, nurses, doctors, dentists, judges and teachers pay rises of only 3.5 per cent next year (2023-24).
It was detailed in recommendations published by the Government and submitted to the various independent pay review bodies about what it can afford without making cuts to services.
The pay review bodies will now consider the recommendations and make their own ones about how much public sector workers should be given next year.
But the documents sparked anger from the unions representing ambulance workers.
GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said: ‘Today’s submission to the [pay review board] shows this Government’s true colours. Ambulance workers – and others across the NHS, including cleaners, porters and care workers – who are the backbone of the Health Service deserve better.’
Unison’s Sara Gorton added: ‘If the Government was actively trying to worsen the crisis in the NHS, it couldn’t have done better than this.’
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