Nurses, ambulance staff and hospital cleaners in Wales to be balloted on strike action
Health workers in Wales are to be balloted for strikes, threatening a massive escalation of industrial unrest across the country in growing disputes over issues including pay.
Unison announced that its more than 400,000 members ranging from nursing staff and ambulance crews to hospital porters and cleaners, in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, will vote in the coming weeks on whether to mount a campaign of industrial action.
Members of other health unions representing nurses, midwives, ambulance crews and physiotherapists are also being balloted for industrial action.
Almost a million NHS workers across the nations of the UK could be involved in strikes and other forms of industrial action before Christmas.
In a letter to the Welsh Government, the union said that 2022-23’s £1,400 wage boost, the same offer made in England, fell “way short of the inflation-busting increase needed to retain staff.”
Unison Cymru head of health, Hugh McDyer, said: “Health workers in Wales are taking extreme measures as costs spiral but their pay falls behind. Some are re-mortgaging their homes and living off bread and soup to survive and this will only get worse as we go into winter.
“Many health staff have decided industrial action is the only way to convince decision-makers that putting pay right is absolutely critical to preventing the NHS from a terminal decline.”
The Welsh Government has said that without further funding from the UK Government, a larger pay rise would be difficult.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the Welsh and UK Government’s decision to award a £1,400 pay rise in the summer had caused anger among NHS workers, sparking resignations across the service.
She accused the UK Government of treating unions as the “enemy within” and of ignoring pleas to discuss pay in a bid to avert industrial action.
“They don’t want to talk to us – they want to demonise us,” she said. “The NHS is haemorrhaging staff and cannot recruit new employees, partly because pay is so low.”
Ms McAnea said NHS staff are being asked to work double shifts, or to work extra hours at weekends because of the staff shortages, leaving them “exhausted”.
She said there would be so-called “life and limb” coverage if there is a strike, but she maintained many hospitals are already operating at such staffing levels because of the recruitment crisis in the NHS.
“Many of our members feel they are already operating at strike levels of staffing. If they go on strike they hope it will show the Government how bad things have got.”
She predicted that any industrial action will be co-ordinated with other health unions, threatening the biggest strike for years, adding she cannot guarantee that services will not be affected.
“We would expect the Westminster Government to talk to us given that they are facing a massive strike, but the rhetoric is just accusing us of being the enemy.”
The Unison leader said railway workers had received support from the public for their strikes and she is certain nurses and other health workers will receive similar support.
Unison members will start voting on October 27.
NHS workers went on strike across England over pay in 2014. Before that, the last time there was a UK-wide strike over pay involving health workers was in 1982.
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