First Minister admits ‘awkwardness’ over negotiations with striking NHS workers
Mark Drakeford has admitted he is finding dealing with the current wave of industrial action involving health workers in Wales uncomfortable.
Nurses and ambulance staff are set to continue striking after unions rejected the Welsh Government’s offer of a one-off payment for its workers following a meeting with health minister Eluned Morgan on Thursday.
After the meeting, Helen Whyley, director of Royal College of Nurses (RCN) Wales, accused the government of “not negotiating seriously on NHS pay”.
“Yet again, the Welsh Government has blamed the UK Government’s lack of additional funding for public services rather than taking responsibility to invest in Welsh nurses delivering Welsh NHS services for Welsh people,” Ms Whyley said.
The government says it is not in a position to offer more money unless it gets further funding from the UK Government and Mr Drakeford has resisted calls to raise income tax in Wales to help fund a pay rise above the inflation rate.
The First Minister told the Financial Times he found it awkward to be on the opposite side of the argument on pay with the unions.
“My awkwardness is being a Labour first minister who has worked very hard alongside our trade union colleagues, managing strikes in the past,” he said.
“It is not a comfortable position at all to find ourselves in, when so many of their arguments we believe are powerful.”
Mr Drakeford also explained his resistance to increasing pressure to raise the income tax rate in Wales by 1p, which could raise over £200 million to fund pay increases for NHS workers.
In October Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price argued that lifting income tax would “protect our public services and save lives” and defend Wales from “this Tory onslaught”.
Drakeford told the FT there had been a “genuine debate” about the policy when in September Liz Truss, then UK prime minister, announced a 1p cut in income tax. But after she scrapped the move, he concluded the rise would be unpopular at a time of surging living costs.
“It would be naive to think you could use all that money for nurses because . . . understandably people in other parts of the public service would be looking to have the same,” he concluded.
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