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Britain is facing further strike chaos with an indefinite walkout by thousands of bus drivers beginning tonight and passport officials preparing for massive industrial action. Rail passengers also face further misery, with the RMT planning stoppages on March 30 and April 1 after action by 20,000 members crippled services across the country yesterday.
Industrial strife is continuing despite the Government averting further strikes in the NHS, where the RCN and Unison are recommending that their members accept a new pay offer.
Junior doctors’ leaders have also agreed to suspend industrial action in return for pay talks.
Writing in the Sunday Express, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said health workers could now focus on clearing waiting lists but warned action by junior doctors had led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of procedures and appointments.
He added: “I hope our offer for nurses, paramedics and physios demonstrates to unions representing junior doctors that the Government is willing to negotiate and find a reasonable way forward which fairly rewards NHS staff for their hard work amid the difficult economic challenges our country faces.”
Ministers are still trying to achieve a breakthrough with teaching unions in order to keep classrooms open, and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is leading “intensive talks”.
However, bus services in the West Midlands will come to a halt from 10.30pm tonight after 3,000 Unite members employed by National Express voted for walkouts over pay.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union – including more than 1,000 Passport Office workers – begin five weeks of action from April 3, with the Belfast office also voting to join the action.
The Home Office says that it has contingency plans in place.
Rail strikes are continuing and, as RMT general secretary Mick Lynch joined the picket line outside London’s Euston station yesterday, he warned the Government: “We need a change in attitude.”
On Thursday, I visited St George’s Hospital in South London with the Prime Minister.
Together, we met some of the brilliant colleagues who stand to benefit from a fair and reasonable pay offer the Government has made to over a million NHS staff, including nurses, ambulance workers, midwives, cleaners and porters.
This is important progress for everyone involved. Not only are we now through the worst of the winter but, with a formal pay offer on the table, we can hopefully start to move on from industrial action and focus entirely on tackling the treatment backlog left by the pandemic and improving patient care.
Many NHS colleagues have told me they are looking forward to putting this difficult period behind us.
The pay offer is the result of two weeks of intensive negotiations with the unions representing nurses, paramedics, midwives, physiotherapists and other non-medical staff.
I’m pleased that many of the unions involved – including the RCN and Unison – are recommending the offer to their members, and I urge all union members to vote to accept it.
We are offering a one-off NHS Backlog Bonus which will see staff receive an additional payment of between £1,250 to £1,600 for their exceptional work throughout the pandemic and to tackle the waiting lists caused by Covid.
We’ve also offered staff a 2 percent one-off lump sum for this financial year, on top of the pay rise of at least £1400 they have already received. For the financial year starting next month, we have offered a 5 percent pay increase.
This means the lowest paid such as porters will receive one-off payments totalling £1,655 this financial year and a pay increase of £2,113 next year.
Our offer recognises the incredible contribution of NHS staff while also holding to the Prime Minister’s promise to halve inflation. Taken with Wednesday’s Spring Budget and our bold plans to grow the economy, it will help us move every part of our country in the right direction.
Of course, these talks have always been about more than just pay and the economy. The value we place on our NHS colleagues is also represented in the actions we take – big and small – to make the NHS a better place to work.
We’re stepping up support to help NHS staff develop their careers, including through apprenticeships. We’re working to make the NHS safer by building on existing safe staffing arrangements to ensure there are always enough people available to care for patients.
We’re also reinforcing zero-tolerance on abuse and will consult on permanently changing pension rules introduced during the pandemic which make it easier for retired NHS workers to return to work without punitive tax charges.
Another important step forward for the NHS will come soon when the NHS England publish its Long-Term Workforce plan. The plan will ensure we have the right people with the right skills in the right places to deliver the best healthcare possible for many years to come.
I deeply regret that over 175,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled this week as a result of junior doctor strikes, despite my offer to start formal talks on the condition strikes were paused.
I am pleased that the BMA junior doctors committee have now accepted that invitation to talks and I would urge the BMA to approach them constructively for the sake of both patients and their own members.
I hope our offer for nurses, paramedics and physios demonstrates to unions representing junior doctors that the government is willing to negotiate and find a reasonable way forward which fairly rewards NHS staff for their hard work amid the difficult economic challenges our country faces.
In the face of intense pressure on the public finances, this government had made a very deliberate choice to prioritise the NHS and the people who work in it. We will continue to invest in staff and the healthcare that is so important to us all.
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