Nurses in England rejected the government’s new pay deal on Friday, setting out plans for further strikes that will put the National Health Service under more strain as they hold out for a higher wage offer than the 5% currently on offer.
About 54% of nurses who took part in a ballot voted to reject the pay deal, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union – which had recommended members accept the deal – said. The turnout was 61% of eligible members.
The RCN said its members would stage a round-the-clock 48-hour strike from April 30, which for the first time will be joined by nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt.
The result represents a setback for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, which has been dealing with pay disputes involving hundreds of thousands of striking public workers as wages fail to keep up with double-digit inflation.
Tens of thousands of nurses have taken part in multiple waves of strikes since December, in an unprecedented step that brought disruption to an already strained NHS dealing with record patient backlogs and serious staff shortages.
Sunak, who took office in October, has made cutting waiting lists for hospital treatment in the NHS one of his priorities.
“Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line,” RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a letter to the country’s health minister Steve Barclay.
“Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible … After a historic vote to strike, our members expect a historic pay award.”
Opinion polls have shown strong support among the British public for striking nurses, who the RCN says have suffered over a decade of poor pay, contributing to thousands leaving the profession.
The result of the ballot comes after the government and healthcare trade unions agreed on a pay proposal comprising a one-off payment of 2% of 2022/23 salaries and a 5% pay rise for the 2023/24 year, which began earlier this month.
Most unions including the RCN had recommended their members accept the offer, even though they had generally sought wage hikes more in line with inflation, which has been near 10% in recent months.
Earlier on Friday, Unison, which represents ambulance staff and others health workers, said its members have voted to accept the offer.
“It is hugely disappointing that the Royal College of Nursing membership has rejected the pay deal recommended by their leadership,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.
Other high-profile pay disputes in Britain that have caused disruptive strikes – including those involving school teachers and the government and railway workers and their employers – remain ongoing.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters