Ambulance strikes set for this week have been called off after GMB, Unison – and later, Unite – union leaders agreed to enter talks with health secretary Steve Barclay.
Barclay had written to the unions offering a one-off cost of living payment for this year and discussions over pay. As a result the GMB and Unison called off ambulance strikes set for 6 and 8 March respectively on Friday. Unite, with fewer members among ambulance workers than the GMB and Unison, initially only suspended its strike action in Welsh Ambulance that had been due to take place today (6 March). But on Sunday 5 March it announced it had suspended its planned strikes elsewhere in the UK.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has also called off its 22 March strike after being invited to talks.
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GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said there had been “a huge shift from the government” who had for months refused to negotiate on pay.
“Now, they are saying they are willing to sit down and talk,” she said, adding that the health secretary had told her that there was additional cash above existing budgets and that a deal would “respect the existing Agenda for Change structure.”
Harrison added: “GMB’s ambulance workers have agreed to suspend industrial action so talks can begin – however the strike will return with a vengeance should talks break down.”
Previously, the government had opened exclusive negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing, leading the union to suspending its own strike action while it was involved in talks. This had angered the ambulance workers who had planned to escalate their strike action.
RCN members are part of a wider bargaining unit, Agenda for Change, which covers more than 1 million NHS staff, including ambulance workers, physiotherapists and support staff as well as nurses.
It is understood the other NHS unions have been reassured that the RCN would not be offered a different deal, and instead would be involved in this new round of talks. These will be supervised by the NHS Staff Council, the usual body for setting NHS pay.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have invited the NHS Staff Council, who represent Agenda for Change unions, to join a series of intensive talks covering pay, terms and conditions improvements and productivity enhancing reforms.
“Any deal needs to strike a balance between giving NHS staff a fair deal and delivering on our promise to halve inflation this year.”
Tens of thousands of junior doctors are still expected to strike in England for 72 hours on 13-15 March.
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