The Welsh government is seeking to end strikes by NHS workers in Wales by proposing a one-off payment to all health service staff worth about £1,000, in a move that will heap pressure on prime minister Rishi Sunak to follow suit in England.
The move by the Labour-led government in Cardiff came amid signs of progress in attempts to curtail industrial action on the railways, as the RMT and TSSA unions and train companies said they were “working jointly” towards a new pay offer.
The threat of full-scale walkouts by schoolteachers across England and Wales over pay also receded after the NASUWT union announced that turnout in its strike ballot had fallen short of legal thresholds for industrial action.
Sunak is grappling with the worst wave of UK strikes in decades, as NHS workers, civil servants and rail staff demand higher pay amid the cost of living crisis.
The prime minister has so far resisted pressure from unions to raise the pay of NHS workers in England for the 2022-23 financial year despite strikes by ambulance staff and nurses.
But people briefed on the Welsh government’s proposal said the pot of money identified by ministers would allow for a one-off payment of about £1,000 to all NHS workers in the principality for the financial year 2022-23.
Eluned Morgan, the Welsh health minister, discussed NHS pay in a meeting with unions on Thursday, and she said “we recognise and respect the strength of feeling among the membership of the unions”.
Unions said the one-off payment of £1,000 did not yet amount to a formal offer.
One GMB union official said it objected to how the proposal would not be a permanent uplift to pay, adding that members would continue with industrial action.
But Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison union, said the Welsh government’s move “ups the pressure” on Westminster.
Health secretary Steve Barclay is examining union proposals to backdate the coming year’s NHS pay rise in England to January 2023, as well as a one-off payment for health service staff. No decisions have been reached.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, used a meeting with Barclay on Thursday to demand “full pay restoration” for junior members in England.
The BMA estimates that junior doctors’ salaries have fallen 26.1 per cent in real terms since 2008-09 and is poised to call a 72-hour walkout in March if a majority vote in favour of strikes.
The GMB said it was poised to announced fresh dates for strikes by ambulance workers following the latest walkout on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there was a sense of momentum in talks involving the RMT and TSSA unions and train companies, after more than six months of industrial action on the railways.
A new pay offer to the RMT, which has led the strikes, could come from the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, as soon as Friday.
The industry has suggested a 9 per cent pay rise over two years, tied to workplace reforms, after the RMT rejected an 8 per cent offer last year, said one person briefed on the discussions.
Another person said there had been “movement” on some of the industry’s demands for workplace modernisation, many of which unions have previously rejected.
The RMT will also hold fresh talks with infrastructure operator Network Rail next week in a separate dispute over pay and working practices.
Although teachers who are members of the NASUWT union will not take strike action, schools could still be hit by walkouts over pay. The NEU and NAHT teachers’ unions are due to announce strike ballot results in the coming days.
Patrick Roach, the NASUWT’s general secretary, said strong support for strike action over pay among the 42 per cent of members who had voted showed “the anger of the profession and the need for governments in England and Wales to engage in meaningful negotiations”.
Universities in the UK are to be hit with 18 days of walkouts by staff n February and March.
The University and College Union, which represents academics and some administrators, announced on Thursday that more than 70,000 workers at 150 universities would strike over pay, insecure contracts and cuts to retirement benefits.
The move comes after the union rejected a pay offer of 4-7 per cent by the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association.
UCU general-secretary Jo Grady said: “The clock is now ticking for the sector to produce a deal or be hit with widespread disruption throughout spring.”