Ambulance Strikes Called Off After Government Agrees To Pay Talks

GMB union hails "huge shift" from health secretary Steve Barclay.
 London Ambulance Service workers on strike last month.
London Ambulance Service workers on strike last month.
Kirsty O'Connor via PA Wire/PA Images

Union bosses have suspended the next wave of ambulance strikes after the government agreed to meet for pay talks.

The GMB hailed a “huge shift” by health secretary Steve Barclay, who has previously ruled out further negotiations on wages.

They said the Department of Health and Social Care was now willing to discuss their pay demands for both this year and next year.

It comes just days after the union announced that its members would only respond to emergency call-outs during the next phase of industrial action.

The strikes, involving more than 13,000 workers, had been due to take place on March 6 and 8.

However, the GMB warned that industrial action will return “with a vengeance” if talks break down again.

Meanwhile, Unison also announced that a strike planned for next Wednesday involving thousands of ambulance staff and other NHS workers has also been suspended.

Rachel Harrison, the union’s national secretary, said: “GMB ambulance workers announced a tightening of the derogations for cover on strike days.

“Less than 24 hours later we received a letter from the secretary of state for health, Steve Barclay, inviting us and other unions to pay talks.

“This is a huge shift from the government, who for months have refused to consider negotiations on pay.

“Now, they are saying they are willing to sit down and talk.

“The government has given assurances of additional cash for both years above existing budgets and that any deal will respect the existing Agenda for Change structure.

“GMB’s ambulance workers have agreed to suspend industrial action so talks can begin – however the strike will return with a vengeance should talks break down.”

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “Unions said all along they could pause strikes if ministers would only commit to formal talks to boost pay for this year.

“The government has finally promised extra investment in pay for both this and next year.

“The sad thing is this could all have been handled so differently. Proper pay talks should have started months ago, long before the first strike was called. That would have avoided days of disruption for the NHS and its patients.

“Whether the talks signal the beginning of the end of the current dispute will emerge in the coming days. If a deal can be reached, strikes can end and everyone can work together again to ensure the NHS gets back on track.

“However, when we get in the room, we’ll quickly learn whether the talks can be meaningful. If not, Unison will be forced to resume strike action. Nobody wants that.”

The Department for Health and Social Care described Unite’s position as “disappointing”, adding that ministers are ready to meet leaders of the other unions over the weekend.

A spokesperson said: “We’re pleased that Agenda for Change unions representing the majority of ambulance workers, nurses, physiotherapists, porters, cleaners and other non-medical staff have agreed to pause strikes and enter a process of intensive talks.

“We want to start these talks as soon as possible and are ready to meet over the weekend.

“We want to find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role of NHS workers, the wider economic pressures facing the UK and the Prime Minister’s priority to halve inflation.

“It is disappointing Unite is going ahead with strikes next week. We urge them to call off strikes and join other unions at the negotiating table.

“Further strikes will cause more frustration and delays for patients, despite contingency plans in place.”


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