Nurses join other striking UK workers in two strikes in December
Nurses across most of the UK are set to hold the first strikes in their union’s 106-year history next month, joining a host of other British workers taking industrial action against pay.
Staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – but not Scotland – will leave on December 15 and 20 after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union said the government had rejected an offer to negotiate.
It will be the latest industrial action in the UK, where decades of inflation and a cost-of-living crisis have prompted workers in various sectors to demand wage increases to keep up with soaring prices.
The nurses’ strike is sandwiched between the first of a series of two-day strikes by national railway workers as postal workers stage fresh work stoppages in the run up to Christmas.
Scores of other public and private sector workers, from lawyers to airport staff, have also gone on strike this year.
“Nursing staff are fed up with being taken for granted, fed up with low pay and insecure staffing levels, fed up with not giving our patients the care they deserve,” said RCN President Pat Cullen.
The union, which wants a wage increase well above inflation, announced earlier this month that a vote by its more than 300,000 members resulted in a majority in favor of strikes.
“Ministers have had more than two weeks since we confirmed that our members felt such injustice that they would strike for the first time,” Cullen said, adding that an offer for formal negotiations was turned down.
“You have the power and the means to stop this by starting serious conversations that address our dispute.”
The RCN will announce next week which specific arms of Britain’s sprawling state-funded National Health Service (NHS) will be affected by the strikes.
– ‘Challenging Times’ –
Amid waves of industrial action, UK inflation continued its recent rise, hitting a 41-year high of 11.1 percent in October on rising energy and food bills.
NHS bosses said in September nurses are skipping meals to feed and clothe their children and are struggling to afford rising transport costs.
One in four hospitals had set up food banks to support staff, according to NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England.
The government says it has accepted independent wage recommendations and given over a million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 ($1,590) this year.
This follows a 3 percent increase last year when public sector wages were frozen.
However, the RCN says this puts experienced nurses 20 per cent worse off in real terms as consecutive awards since 2010 have been below inflation.
In Scotland, the union has stopped announcing strikes after the Edinburgh devolved government, which is responsible for health policy, resumed wage negotiations.
UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was “very grateful for the hard work and dedication” of the nurses and regretted the strikes.
The NHS has “tested plans” to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services continue to function, he added.
“These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which by current figures amount to a 19.2 per cent pay rise and cost £10bn a year, are not affordable,” he said.
The RCN has questioned the UK government’s economic logic, noting that it is spending billions of pounds on agency staff to fill workforce gaps.
It cites independent research it commissioned that suggests the Treasury would recoup 81 percent of the initial outlay of a significant pay rise through higher tax revenues and savings on future hiring and retention costs.
Last year, 25,000 nurses left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) registry, it said.
Other UK health unions are also voting workers to take industrial action, while ambulance workers in Scotland will be sacked on Monday.
Across the economy, numerous sectors are likely to continue their strikes into the new year.