Unite the Union, one of the UK’s biggest trade unions, on Sunday announced that ambulance strikes due to take place in England this week had been called off after it agreed to participate in talks with the government over pay.
The union, which planned strike action on Monday and Wednesday across seven ambulance trusts, had previously rejected the government’s invitation for talks, citing “unreasonable preconditions” from ministers.
The Department of Health and Social Care had called on the NHS staff council, which also includes representatives from the leading health unions, to join “intensive talks”, with the aim of reaching a “fair and reasonable” deal on pay on the strict basis that the unions cancelled all planned strike action ahead of negotiations.
This proposal was accepted by other leading health unions which called off planned ambulance strike action that would have seen about 13,000 ambulance workers affiliated with GMB and roughly 25,000 ambulance workers backed by Unison walk out across England this week.
Last month, the Royal College of Nursing, which last year was calling for a pay rise of about 19 per cent, suspended its planned 48-hour strike action and also agreed to enter into “intensive” talks with the health department.
Representatives from Unite had rejected the government’s conditions for talks on Friday, arguing that the prospect of a lump-sum payment rather than a permanent pay rise did not address staff concerns over pay. It criticised the government’s focus on “productivity” and “efficiency” savings.
However, in a shift of position on Sunday, Unite, which represents about 3,000 ambulance workers, said that it would now suspend strike action.
“Following further assurances from the government over the weekend, Unite has in good faith agreed to pause the strike action,” Unite head of operations Gail Cartmail said. “If the meeting doesn’t meet these assurances, strike action will resume.”
The stand-off between health unions and the government over pay, which arose after ministers refused to reopen talks for the current financial year of 2022/23, has begun to ease in recent weeks.
Last week, GMB union confirmed that the government had agreed to discuss pay this financial year as well as the upcoming year, while unions had “received assurances there is additional cash for both years above existing budgets”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We’re pleased that unions representing the majority of ambulance workers, nurses, physiotherapists, porters, cleaners and other non-medical staff have agreed to pause strikes and enter a process of intensive talks.
“We want to find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role of NHS workers, the wider economic pressures facing the UK and the prime minister’s priority to halve inflation.”