Nurses in England reject pay offer, plan more strikes
LONDON — Nurses in England rejected an offer of a 5% pay rise on Friday and set out plans for further strikes, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s attempts to end the dispute and potentially further straining the country’s health service.
About 54% of nurses who took part in a ballot voted to reject the deal, said the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union, which had recommended they accept. Turnout was 61% of eligible members.
The RCN said its members would stage a 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 major setback for Sunak’s government, which has been embroiled in pay disputes with hundreds of thousands of public workers as wages fail to keep up with double-digit inflation.
Tens of thousands of nurses have taken part in an unprecedented wave of strikes since December, disrupting an already strained national health service that is NHS dealing with record patient backlogs and serious staff shortages.
“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 Health Minister Steve Barclay.
“Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible.”
Sunak, who took office in October, has made cutting waiting lists for hospital treatment in the NHS one of his priorities and faces local elections in May ahead of a national ballot expected next year.
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 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.
“This offer was recommended by the union leaders themselves as being fair and reasonable. They recognized how far the government moved,” finance minister Jeremy Hunt told Sky News.
“What the public want is an end to these strikes.”
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.