Welsh NHS pay rise: Nurses 'not ruling out strike' after 3% offer

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"Claps don't pay the bills," nurse Matthew Tovey says

Unions representing nurses in Wales say strike action is being considered in response to a 3% pay rise offer.

The GMB union said it was balloting with a clear recommendation to reject the offer and take industrial action.

RCN Wales, which has argued for a 12.5% increase, said it was "bitterly disappointed" with the pay award from the Welsh government, which matches England's offer to NHS staff.

Eluned Morgan said she would be "very disappointed" if strikes took place.

"I think that now is not the right time for industrial action I'm afraid," she said.

"We are under immense pressure. We know that there are a lot of people waiting for to be seen on waiting lists, and we need to consider them as well when we're making these decisions."

Nurse Jackie Davies said colleagues were discussing striking for the first time in her career.

"For the first time in my 36 years, I've had nurses talking about striking and saying things like when are we going to walk out, not if," she said.

"I joined the RCN in particular because the RCN had a no-strike policy - and we're a profession, and we're never going to walk out on our patients.

"There was that trust and respect that we would be regarded fairly, and treated fairly. But I can look at my salary, and my salary has hardly moved in the last nine years, because we've had no pay raises for seven years."

Ms Davies, who works in Swansea and is the RCN's trade union committee member for Wales, said the union will consult with members and ask what action they would like to take.

"And I'll be putting a tick next to that box to say yes [to strike], and I, honest to God, since I started this in 1985 I never thought that I would be putting a tick next to a box like that," she said.

Image caption,
People gathered at a protest on NHS pay ahead of the Welsh and UK governments' announcements

Matthew Tovey, who qualified as a nurse during the pandemic, said every healthcare worker had dealt with the strain of the pandemic.

"We've all had to deal with Covid within our own wards, I think every healthcare worker has had to deal with Covid whether the cleaner, porter, support workers to staff nurses," he said.

"It was already under-resourced, understaffed and underfunded but Covid just accelerated the staff shortages, the staff morale, burnout, they've just exacerbated it.

"We're working at a 20% pay deficit from 2010... I'm hoping the government is just going to restore our pay... that's the least they can do, nurses are leaving in droves, we just want to be paid fairly."

Mr Tovey, from Merthyr Tydfil, said the public and politicians had clapped for NHS workers every week at the beginning of the pandemic, but had not fairly rewarded them.

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Image caption,
Merthyr nurse Matthew Tovey, pictured right, was part of a group that handed a petition to Downing Street on NHS pay

"It's pathetic, pitiful and poor, after all we've been through - we saved Boris's life yet we've had nothing. Claps don't pay the bills," he said.

"There's real concerns and people are leaving the profession, the pressure is just too much. We're qualified people with responsibility, we're working the jobs of two or three people, we need to be paid fairly.

"We would only go to industrial action because we are adamant we need to make the change for patient safety.

"We need qualified and experienced people when people are admitted to A&E. When they go to wards, there are a lot of junior people at the moment but we need people to teach them, we need those experienced nurses."

What do unions think of the NHS pay offer?

The RCN's Ms Whyley said 12.5% was "absolutely what we deserve".

"We've got a really angry workforce who do not think this this award is sufficient," she said.

"I'm going to see what they want to do and when we've had that opportunity, we'll come back with our plan.

"We've done our homework, we've looked at the economic data, we've looked at the data from other professions and benchmarking and we can see that over the last 10 years, our members have significantly fallen behind other groups and their pay."

Paul Gage, GMB health lead for Wales said: "Let's face it, this is a slap in the face for Welsh NHS and social care staff.

"Everybody says that our NHS staff deserve better after what they did for us over the last 18 months.

"Well, it's time to do something about it.

"We'll be balloting our members with a clear recommendation for rejection and for industrial action."

And TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: "It simply doesn't recognise their dedication, commitment and contribution."

The increase will be backdated to April 2021, and follows a recommendation by NHS pay bodies.

The Welsh Conservatives welcomed the announcement, but Plaid Cymru said there is a risk workers will feel "let down" - especially as workers in Scotland are receiving 4%.

Asked why Wales couldn't meet the Scottish government's offer of 4%, Ms Morgan said ministers were "restricted by the amount of funding that we get from the UK Conservative government" but she said it was "important" for the pay recommendations to be respected.

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