Unite ends ambulance strikes and agrees to government wage negotiations

Unite the Union, one of the UK’s largest unions, announced on Sunday that ambulance strikes due to take place in England this week have been called off after agreeing to participate in talks with the government over pay .

The union, which was planning strikes at seven ambulance companies for Monday and Wednesday, had previously declined the government’s invitation to talks, citing “unreasonable preconditions” from ministers.

The Department for Health and Social Care had called on the NHS staff council, which includes representatives from the leading healthcare unions, to hold “intense talks” with the aim of reaching a “fair and reasonable” agreement on pay on a strict basis that unions all canceled planned strike action before the negotiations.

This proposal was accepted by other leading health unions, who canceled planned ambulance strike action which would have seen some 13,000 GMB-affiliated ambulance workers and some 25,000 Unison-backed ambulance workers move out across England this week.

Last month the Royal College of Nursing, which was demanding a pay rise of about 19 per cent last year, suspended its planned 48-hour strike action and also agreed to start “intense” talks with the health department.

Unite officials had rejected the government’s terms for talks on Friday, arguing that the prospect of a lump sum rather than a permanent pay rise does not address staff pay concerns. It criticized the government’s focus on “productivity” and “efficiency” savings.

However, in a change of position on Sunday, Unite, which represents some 3,000 ambulance workers, said they would now suspend strike action.

“Following further government reassurances over the weekend, Unite has agreed in good faith to halt the strike action,” said Gail Cartmail, Unite’s chief of operations. “If the meeting does not fulfill these assurances, the strike will resume.”

The standoff between health unions and the government over pay, which arose after ministers refused to resume talks for the current fiscal year 2022/23, has gradually eased in recent weeks.

Last week, the GMB union confirmed that the government had agreed to discuss wages this year and next, while unions had “received assurances that additional money will be in excess of existing budgets for both years”.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are pleased that the unions, representing the majority of ambulance workers, nurses, physiotherapists, porters, cleaners and other non-medical workers, have agreed to halt the strikes and begin a process of intensive talks.

“We want to find a fair and sensible solution that recognizes the important role played by NHS workers, the broader economic pressures the UK is facing and the Prime Minister’s priority of cutting inflation in half.”

https://www.ft.com/content/6644d63c-fd1c-458e-aca1-55f1bb63424c Unite ends ambulance strikes and agrees to government wage negotiations

Brian Ashcraft

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