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Health unions announce new round of industrial action early next year

Strikes planned for end of Jan and late Feb; ambulance service also considering 48 hour stoppage

Caroline White

Friday, 19 December 2014

Health unions have signalled their intention to step up the pressure on the government next year over pay, with the announcement today that further industrial action will go ahead in January and February.

Yet more stoppages will be inevitable if health secretary Jeremy Hunt refuses to get round the negotiating table to resolve the pay dispute, they have warned.

Union members will metaphorically down tools from 09.00 hours to 21.00 hours on 29 January and then work to rule between Friday 30 and Tuesday 24 February, followed by a 24-hour strike, starting on 24 February.

The Ambulance Service in England and Northern Ireland is also considering whether to stage a continuous 48 hour strike from midday on 29 January to midday on January 31. The GMB union will issue the necessary formal notices to NHS employers in the coming weeks.

Today’s announcement follows the government's decisions earlier this year not to implement the recommendation of the independent Pay Review Body to give all staff 1% for 2014-15 and to stop the Review Body from making any recommendation for 2015-16.

The 1% pay offer for NHS staff in England is restricted to those ineligible for incremental progression, with the same approach scheduled for 2015.

"The government and NHS employers are showing a total disregard for patient safety by refusing to enter into any meaningful negotiations to try and resolve this dispute,” said Christina McAnea, Chair of the joint NHS Trade Unions.

She said that the unions had warned the government that the dispute would escalate if ministers showed no sign of softening their stance.

“We have no option but to escalate the industrial action by taking longer strikes. NHS workers are being treated worse than any other part of the public sector - they have had their pay frozen or held down for 5 years and many face serious hardship, especially at Christmas," she added.

Rehana Azam, GMB NHS National Officer, agreed, accusing the health secretary of behaving irresponsibly.

“Further stoppages across the NHS are inevitable should Jeremy Hunt continue to refuse to hold discussions to settle the pay dispute. This is a dispute he created when he dismissed an independent pay review body's recommendation for NHS staff pay,” she insisted.

Rachael Maskell, Unite head of health said: “The nation’s 1.4 million NHS staff have seen their incomes shrink by 15 per cent since the coalition came to power in 2010. The government has stretched the goodwill of NHS staff to breaking point.”

Individual trade unions will announce precise details of the strike action their members will be taking on 29 January and 25 February in due course.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “NHS staff have received either an increment (worth around 3.4 per cent) or a one per cent pay award this year. Employers are of course disappointed that a number of trade unions will again seek to disrupt the delivery of care, impacting on patients and their families as well as their colleagues.”

He insisted that discussions with the unions were continuing, but acknowledged that it has been difficult to reach an agreement.

“Employers continue to be clear that they cannot afford further increases in pay at this time. A pay award for all staff on top of increments would have the equivalent of 14,000 newly qualified nurses, which could have put further pressure on the health service and staff as they strive to give safe, quality patient care,” he said.

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