End of the NHS strikes in sight: Will other unions now agree new million-pound pay deals?

16 March 2023, 23:27 | Updated: 17 March 2023, 07:02

A pay deal in the NHS has been reached
A pay deal in the NHS has been reached. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A pay deal for NHS workers has sparked fresh hope that more strikes in other industries can be avoided, with the Chancellor and union chiefs hinting that similar agreements can be thrashed out.

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A government spokesman announced on Thursday afternoon that a deal for nurses and ambulance workers had been reached, including a pay rise for 2022/23 and a pay settlement for 2023/24.

The offer consists of a one-off payment for the current financial year 2022/23 worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for Agenda for Change staff in England and a 5 per cent consolidated pay increase for 2023/24.

Unions are recommending members support the deal after weeks of talks aimed at stopping strikes. The Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB have all said they are backing the deal.

And Jeremy Hunt told LBC he hopes that the government's NHS pay offer could lead to more breakthroughs among other public sector workers who have walked out in recent months.

NHS workers have been striking for months
NHS workers have been striking for months. Picture: Getty

Speaking to Andrew Marr on Thursday evening, Chancellor Mr Hunt said that he hoped the 5% pay rise offer to ambulance workers and nurses could lead to an end to walkouts among professions like teachers and civil servants.

"The government's attitude to all these groups of workers is the same, we would like to sit down and settle them reasonably but in a way that doesn't risk the economic recovery of the country," Mr Hunt said."And I hope today will be the start of that change."

Rishi Sunak also called on other striking public sector unions to call off their industrial action and get negotiating with the government.

"We want to have constructive dialogue with unions," the Prime Minister said during a visit to a south London hospital on Thursday.

Sunak called for other unions to begin negotiating
Sunak called for other unions to begin negotiating. Picture: Getty

"We are serious about finding fair and reasonable agreements on public sector pay. I think today's agreement demonstrates that.

"We don't want disruption for patients, we don't want disruption for schoolchildren in our classrooms.

"So please come and get round the table, I am confident we can find a way through this. Today's agreement demonstrates we are serious about this and we can find workable solutions."

The government spokesman said ministers and unions believe the NHS deal represents "a fair and reasonable settlement" that acknowledges the dedication of NHS staff, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures currently facing the UK.

"Those unions with mandates for industrial action, RCN, Unison, GMB, CSP, Unite and BDA, will now consult their members in consultations that will be held over the coming weeks. Strike action will continue to be paused while these ballots are ongoing," the spokesman said.

The government said the NHS would fund the pay rise itself, rather than the Treasury, although ministers said that no money would be diverted from frontline health services.

But the NHS has previously said it would have to cut back cancer services to cover pay rises out of its own budget. The Times reported that the Treasury could take extra money out of a contingency fund to make up any shortfalls.

Civil servants striking this week
Civil servants striking this week. Picture: Alamy

Other unions representing striking workers in professions like the civil service and education, as well as junior doctors, said the NHS deal could represent an "encouraging" precedent for pay deals for their own members.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: "The deal being hammered out in the NHS by unions and the Government may provide a template for unlocking disputes elsewhere in the wider public sector.

"Yesterday, thousands of Prospect members took strike action across the civil service and wider public sector - our biggest action for more than a decade.

"This was after 80% voted for strike action on a 72% turnout, a result that should have been a wake-up call for ministers and officials and enough to trigger intensive negotiations.

"Our members are highly skilled professionals and are rightly sick of being treated as the poor relation to those doing similar jobs in the private sector and other parts of the public sector.

Chancellor says the new NHS pay offer to unions is not inflationary

"They will be looking closely at what the Government has offered in terms of the NHS and expect the Government to pursue similar active negotiations with them."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was encouraging that unions had secured a pay deal, the TES reported.

He added: “We remain hopeful that there will soon be a resolution in the education sector that addresses the serious concerns around pay and conditions and brings the industrial dispute to an end.”

Meanwhile Health Secretary Steve Barclay called on junior doctors to follow the example of other health unions which have settled with the Government and call off their industrial action and enter into talks on pay.

Wes Streeting: Govt has been 'forced to swallow some humble pie'

"We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to," he said.

"But a request from them for a pay rise of 35% is not affordable. That is why we need to see from them the same sort of leadership that we have seen from the trade unions in the Agenda for Change contract."

Read more: Strike action paused as NHS unions and government reach deal on pay

Read more: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ‘hopes’ for more strike-ending pay deals - as long as they 'don’t risk economy'

Doctors' union the British Medical Association welcomed an invitation to discuss pay and suggested a new meeting with the Government on Friday.

The BMA, whose junior doctor members were on strike this week, said negotiations should have started months ago.

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