A “significantly improved” pay offer will be put forward to nurses and other NHS staff in Scotland, it has been announced.
Humza Yousaf has said he will do everything in his power to prevent industrial action, as union strike ballots begin to get underway.
“I will be doing everything in my power to prevent industrial action from taking place”
His comments were made on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme earlier today.
The Scottish Government’s 5% pay rise offer for NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts for 2022-23 was rejected by health unions.
Subsequently, Unison began balloting its health members in the country on strike action over pay on Monday and the Royal College of Midwives in Scotland did the same last month.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing will launch its strike ballot of NHS nurses across the whole of the UK on Thursday.
Mr Yousaf told the BBC radio programme that he planned to recommence negotiations with unions and that he hoped strike action can be avoided.
He said he understood why trade unions were asking for a pay deal closer to inflation because of high inflation rates.
“But equally, I have to present an improved offer, I accept that, but one that is within the financial envelope, that I don’t have to take money away from cancer services or mental health services,” the health secretary told the BBC.
He added: “I will be doing everything in my power to prevent industrial action from taking place, which includes in our next meeting with trade unions coming forward with a significantly improved pay offer for them.”
Asked whether a deal close to 10% could be offered to nurses, Mr Yousaf said: “I think it’s fair to look at what we’ve offered other sectors, including local government, and say is that roughly where you want to get to or a similar package for other public sector workers.
“I’m not going to negotiate through the airwaves here with you but I have said to the trade unions in my conversations with them already – although I’m disappointed that their members have rejected – I accept fully that they have a mandate from their members to reject that offer and therefore they can expect a significantly improved offer when we next sit round the table, planned for next week.”
Responding to his comments, RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said: “We have been calling for a return to the negotiating table since the summer when our members rejected the Scottish government’s offer.
“It shouldn’t have taken the commencement of our strike ballot to reach this point”
“It shouldn’t have taken the commencement of our strike ballot to reach this point,” he said.
He added: “The cabinet secretary has recognised that a significantly improved pay offer is required.
“Paying nursing staff fairly to recognise their safety critical role is a political choice. Another real-terms pay cut will not retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”
But Mr Poolman was angered by the health secretary’s comments around being cautious not to take away money from vital health services to fund a pay increase for staff.
“To suggest to nursing staff that fair pay should come at the expense of key services such as cancer and mental health provision is insulting both to our members and the people of Scotland, who recognise that these services are already understaffed and relying on the goodwill of nursing staff to keep going,” he added.
Meanwhile, Unison Scotland’s head of health Matt McLaughlin said members would be “keen to see if the minister’s interpretation of ‘significant’ is the same as theirs”.
“However, I am sure that they will be furious that the minister thinks they can be emotionally blackmailed with a threat to cuts in cancer services and mental health provision.
“For the Scottish Government to suggest that a pay offer might be contingent on cost to life-saving services is a very low blow,” he added.