Belfast Telegraph

NHS staff to stage fresh pay strike

Hundreds of thousands of NHS workers, ranging from nurses and midwives to porters and cleaners, are to stage a fresh strike in the bitter row with the Government over pay.

Members of several unions in England and Northern Ireland will walk out for four hours on Monday morning and take action short of a strike for the rest of the week.

Many of the workers went on strike last month for the first time in their career, in protest at the coalition's controversial decision not to accept a recommended 1% pay rise for all NHS staff.

Picket lines will be mounted outside hospitals and ambulance headquarters, with workers expecting to receive the same level of support from the public as during last month's walkout.

Unions have struck a two-year deal with the administration in Wales, following an earlier agreement in Scotland, increasing their anger with the Westminster Government.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was accused of erecting a "Berlin Wall of intransigence" in refusing to talk to NHS staff on pay.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the NHS, said it expected a strong turnout in Monday's strike.

Head of health Rachael Maskell said: "As ministers ponder their departmental legacies as May's general election looms, Jeremy Hunt's ministerial epitaph will be: 'I did not talk to hardworking NHS staff on pay'.

"We understand that MPs from all parties have been urging Hunt to start talks, but, so far, he is cowering behind a Berlin Wall of intransigence.

"The 1.35 million NHS workforce has been forced, reluctantly, to take strike action on Monday as they have seen their incomes eroded by 15% since the coalition came to power in May 2010."

Unite contrasted the attitude of Mr Hunt with that of the Labour-controlled Welsh government.

Ms Maskell said: "The contrast in the attitude between the financially challenged Welsh government and the hard line adopted by Hunt could not be greater. It is time for Hunt to get around the negotiating table in good faith."

Unions are pressing for the NHS to be properly funded so it can have enough staff who are well motivated and fairly paid.

They are pressing for immediate payment of the 1% recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body, the living wage of £7.65 an hour for low-paid staff, an above-inflation pay rise for 2015-16 and a commitment to future pay rises.

Unison's head of health Christina McAnea said: "For many in the NHS, last month's strike was a first.

"Monday's industrial action will be bigger as more unions will be joining it. Jeremy Hunt needs to listen to NHS workers who feel this Government is treating them with contempt.

"NHS workers are overworked and underpaid. Most patients would be shocked to know that one in five of the NHS workers who care for them need to do a second job just to survive and many have to borrow money every month to make ends meet or resort to food banks."

Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB, said: "We regret having to inconvenience NHS users again, but the intransigence of the Government and employers leaves us no choice.

"We are open to talks but the Health Secretary still refuses to meet the unions. This is not the way to go about dispute resolution. We've managed to get a settlement in Wales in part because the Welsh government was prepared to enter into dialogue. Jeremy Hunt needs to get round the table and make more money available for a settlement.

"The planned action will undoubtedly cause widespread disruption to NHS services. However, we have sent formal notification of this action to all affected NHS employers so that they can work out essential cover requirements to ensure patient safety."

Hospitals said their priority will be to maintain emergency services and specific work that has been identified and agreed as clinically urgent.

They have stressed that the safety of patients is their top priority and they will be contacted if appointments have to be cancelled because of the strike.

Richard Evans, the Society of Radiographers' chief executive officer, said: "The anger that radiographers and other NHS workers feel is very strong.

"The devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have come to an agreement with their health workers. Why are the administrations in England and Northern Ireland not even capable of meeting with the unions to discuss a creative way forward?

"Radiographers do not want to hurt the people that they serve. Steps have been taken to minimise the impact on patients and their families."

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "I was overwhelmed by the response of our members to the previous industrial action and I urge them to respond equally next week.

"I am also very heartened to see that public support for a 1% award for NHS staff has remained high since that industrial action, so we know the public are behind us.

"This is not about our members demanding huge banker-sized bonuses, or asking for the similarly large bonuses and pay increases given to many senior managers in the NHS. It is about our members having to fight just to get the very modest 1% pay award recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body.

"It is also an award which still lags way behind the rising cost of living and will see our members earning the same in 2016 as they did in 2013.

"As before, in every area, our local representatives have worked with hospitals to ensure safe services will be available to women in need of urgent care, such as those in labour. Our dispute is not with the women for whom midwives care, it is with employers telling midwives they are not worth a 1% pay rise."

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