Nurses to strike again in blow to UK’s National Health Service

Demonstrators at a strike by NHS nursing staff outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, on Dec 20, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON – Nurses will strike again in England next month as unions and the government refuse to back down in a row over pay.

The move threatens a chaotic start to the year for Britain’s National Health Service after ambulance workers also announced further strike dates.

The Royal College of Nursing said on Friday that members will strike on Jan 18 and 19, following two days of historic industrial action in December.

It’s the first time strikes have taken place on such a wide scale since the union was founded over a century ago.

“The government had the opportunity to end this dispute before Christmas but instead they have chosen to push nursing staff out into the cold again in January,” said Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted again on Friday that the government would not increase pay by more than the level recommended by its pay review body.

The Unison labor group said on Thursday that ambulance workers would stage further industrial action on Jan 11 and 23.

The strikes will involve more ambulance employees, not just the emergency response crews who walked out on Wednesday, it said.

The action will also last longer than the 12-hour strike earlier this week, with each set to stretch for a full day across large parts of the UK, including London.

A separate union, GMB, said on Friday that it had suspended the strike on Dec. 28 as a show of goodwill to the public. However, it announced that it would be joining Unison by striking on Jan. 11.

Ministers have consistently said they won’t discuss a higher pay raise for NHS staff than an independent panel’s recommendation earlier in the year, which averages at just under 5 per cent for nurses. Inflation has risen above 10 per cent in recent months, which the government said will be taken into account by the 2023 pay review.

“Speeding up next year’s pay-review-body process won’t solve the current dispute, which is about the pitiful amount the government gave health workers this year,” Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said. 

Health unions have said they’re willing to call off strikes if negotiations take place. Their leaders argue that pay review bodies are not fully independent because they operate within parameters set by the government. BLOOMBERG

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