Nurse strikes in Wales have been paused, as the Welsh Government offers to reopen negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – but pay is off the table.
RCN Wales announced today that the devolved government had pledged to hold further talks on the non-pay elements of the most recent pay deal.
“We are hopeful that the discussions will result in significant positive outcomes for NHS nursing staff in Wales”
The deal was rejected by RCN Wales but is being implemented after it was accepted by the majority of other unions.
Members of RCN Wales went on strike over the deal on 6 and 7 June and were due to return to the picket lines on 12 and 13 July.
However, following the government offer of talks, the July strikes have now been cancelled. The union has also put a pause on its plans to ballot to its members for a new strike mandate for a further six months.
RCN Wales director Helen Whyley said she was “hopeful” that the discussions would lead to an improvement to the terms and conditions of employment for nursing staff.
She added that the Welsh Government’s offer for further talks was proof that the strikes thus far had been successful.
“Our strike action in June has clearly been effective as the Welsh government has listened to RCN members voices about issues facing nursing in Wales,” said Ms Whyley.
“[It has] reached out to RCN Wales for official discussions on non-pay elements of working conditions. For this reason, we are pausing the planned strikes for July and the statutory ballot action asking members to vote on more industrial action for the rest of the year.
“Industrial action continues to be a last resort for nursing staff, and I have heard their stories of the personal sacrifice they make every day fighting for safe care for their patients that pushed them to vote for strike action.
“The pressure put on the Welsh Government by our members has been key to these talks commencing.”
During the latest round of nurse strikes in Wales, earlier this month, staff on the picket lines told Nursing Times they were frustrated by the “vague” nature of the non-pay aspects contained in the government’s deal.
What is in the most recent Welsh NHS pay offer?
- 5% consolidated increase for 2023-24, rising to 7.8% for the bottom two pay points
- Non-consolidated NHS recovery payment worth, on average, 3% for 2022-23
- A commitment to the principle of pay restoration to 2008 levels
These are on top of the award already implemented for 2022-23, which included the NHS Pay Review Body-recommended consolidated increase of 4.75%, plus an additional 3% (1.5% consolidated and 1.5% non-consolidated).
- Reinstating unsociable hours allowance after one week’s sickness absence
- Reviewing career progression arrangements, such as nurses and other Agenda for Change staff moving from bands 5 to 6
- Implementing recommendations of the nurse preceptorship scheme report
- Reviewing job descriptions which are more than three years old
- Making flexible working the “default” across the workforce, unless there are clear reasons not to, and implement an all-Wales policy on this by September 2023
- Exploring moving to a 36-hour working week without loss of earnings for all AfC staff
- Reducing agency reliance through improving conditions for direct NHS employees
- Implementing the recommendations in the workforce, retention, and other strategic reports and plans released recently
- Creating an all-Wales policy on retire and return by September 2023 and exploring pension policies to improve retention
- Increasing workplace wellbeing through better return to work policies, giving mental wellbeing parity with physical health, and shifting towards redeployment as opposed to absence
- Ensuring continued professional development (CPD) is made a priority with long-term goals for all staff to have protected time
- A promise to create a Partnership Agreement Hub by July 2023 to track progress for the all-Wales policies
Speaking whilst on strike in Cardiff, registered nurse Sarah hill criticised the lack of timelines for many of the pledges, adding: “There were no timelines, just vague promises. We’re in an emergency staffing crisis, we need timelines.
“They need to start listening, and hopefully this will be their wake-up call.”
Others described the Welsh NHS as in “crisis” despite the pay deal, which other unions accepted.
Today’s announcement indicates the government could be open to adapting some of these non-pay conditions which, at the time of the offer, Welsh health and social care minister Eluned Morgan said was a final offer which had required the government to draw on reserves and “underspends” in other areas.
Ms Whyley added: “We are hopeful that the discussions with [the] Welsh Government will result in significant positive outcomes for NHS nursing staff in Wales, that will improve their terms and conditions of employment in addition to the pay award that has been implemented.
“These latest discussions will be time limited and the RCN will update its members on the outcomes from these talks in due course.”
Neither RCN Wales, nor the Welsh Government, were able to specify which parts of the deal were to be discussed.
A Welsh Government spokesperson noted that the Society of Radiographers had also paused planned action to engage in the talks.
They said: “We are pleased the RCN and Society of Radiographers have suspended further action and ballots, to enable talks to explore strengthening the non-pay elements of the pay offer, which has been collectively agreed by the Wales Partnership Forum.”