The Manila Times

Health workers reach pay deal to end strikes


LONDON: Unions representing more than a million health care workers in England reached a deal on Thursday to resolve months of disruptive strikes for higher wages.

The announcement came as early career physicians spent a third day on picket lines and the day after UK Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt announced a budget that included no additional money for labor groups that have staged crippling strikes amid a punishing cost-of-living crisis and doubledigit inflation.

Any strike actions will be halted while rank-and-file members vote on whether to accept an offer of a lump sum payment for the current year, and a 5-percent raise next year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was a good deal for National Health Service (NHS) staff who persevered through the pandemic along with patients and taxpayers.

“Today’s agreement demonstrates we are serious about this, and we can find workable solutions,” Sunak said during a visit to a London hospital where he met with nurses.

But the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), one of at least five unions supporting the

deal, said the pay offer would not have come if nurses had not made the difficult decision to go on strike, forcing the government to negotiate.

“It is not a panacea, but it is real, tangible progress, and the RCN’s member leaders are asking fellow nursing staff to support what our negotiations have secured,” Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said.

Unite, the largest trade union in the United Kingdom, blasted the government for months of “dither

and delay” that caused unnecessary pain to staff and patients, and said it would not recommend the deal but let workers vote on it.

“It is clear that this government does not hold the interest of workers or the NHS at heart,” Unite general-secretary Sharon Graham said.

Some have criticized health care workers for jeopardizing lives by striking, though ambulance crews said they responded to the most urgent calls and emergency rooms were staffed.

The health care workers, including midwives and physical therapists, had been in talks since they held what organizers said was the largest strike in the history of the country’s NHS last month.

It was not immediately clear where the funding for raises would come from because they were not in the budget Hunt announced on Wednesday and The Department of Health and Social Care had recently claimed raises above 3.5 percent were unaffordable.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said they would look for cost savings, and the funding would ultimately be up to the Treasury and would not come at the expense of patients.

If the Treasury does not provide the additional money, the overburdened public health system could be forced for a second consecutive year to cut spending or positions, said Ben Zaranko of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank.

A ratified deal with nurses and others will ease some of the pain on the state-funded public health system, which has been beset by winter viruses, staff shortages and backlogs from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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