UK unions split over government pay offer for health workers

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: NHS nurses and other medical workers strike over pay, in London

By Kylie MacLellan and Farouq Suleiman

LONDON (Reuters) - British healthcare and ambulance workers belonging to the GMB trade union have voted to accept a government pay offer, the union said on Friday, hours after members of another union rejected it.

The offer, agreed between the government and healthcare union leaders last month, included a one-off payment equivalent to 2% of salaries in the 2022/23 financial year and a 5% pay rise for 2023/24.

GMB's backing means the offer has been accepted by four unions representing National Health Service (NHS) workers whose members include midwives, physiotherapists and ambulance workers.

The long-running dispute has led to hundreds of thousands of NHS staff taking strike action over the last few months, adding to strains on the health service.

Other public sector workers in Britain, including teachers, as well as train staff have staged strikes in recent months as they demand higher pay deals in the face of an inflation rate that remains above 10%. The government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said big pay deals could fuel future inflation.

The NHS Staff Council, which includes representatives from NHS employers and trade unions, is due to meet on May 2 to vote on whether to accept the offer.

The GMB's leadership said it would now vote in favour of the pay offer, after 56% of its members who voted in a ballot accepted the deal. Turnout was 51%.

"This new pay offer would not have happened without the strike action taken by ambulance and other GMB health workers," said Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary.

"Our members recognise that progress has been made - from the government originally offering nothing, health workers will be thousands of pounds better off."

Britain's health minister, Steve Barclay, said Friday's announcement showed the government's offer was "fair and reasonable" and could end the dispute.

"I’ve always said I want a fair resolution that recognises the outstanding job of NHS staff and also protects the government's commitment to halve inflation – and I’m hopeful the NHS Staff Council accepts our offer when they meet next week," Barclay said.

Earlier, the Unite trade union said it planned fresh strike action after 52% of its members who took part in the ballot voted against the offer. Turnout in that ballot was 55%.

"Unite was clear from the start it was very unlikely this offer would be accepted," Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said in a statement. "Unite’s members will now return to the picket line to continue their fight."

The nurses union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also rejected the offer earlier this month and it plans a further strike.

(Editing by William Schomberg and Sarah Young)