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“There is no more money” for pay rises, says health minister

Wales’ health minister has said there is “simply no money” to increase its pay offer without substantial cuts to staffing and essential services.

Nurses in all but one health board in Wales will take to the picket line on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December 2022 after members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) voted in favour strike action over pay and patient safety.

The announcement comes after the governments in Wales, England and Northern Ireland turned down the RCN’s offer of formal, detailed negotiations as an alternative to strike action.

An experienced nurse has seen their pay decline by at least 20% in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.

RCN Wales Director, Helen Whyley, said that calls for pay negotiations with the Welsh government had been “met with silence”.

Last week it was announced that paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff in Wales are also set to stage a walk out.

Workers across the ambulance services and some NHS Trusts have voted to strike over the Government’s imposed 4 per cent pay award – a real term pay cut.

In the Senedd on Wednesday (7 December) Health Minister Eluned Morgan was asked to make a statement on threats of industrial action across the Welsh NHS, and on its plans to try to avert such actions through negotiation.

Ms Morgan said that whilst she “fully understands and sympathises with their situation”, without additional funding from the UK Government, there is “simply no money to increase our pay offer without substantial cuts to staffing and essential services.”

She also confirmed she would be meeting all healthcare unions next week to explore if there is any possibility or alternative that might help us to avoid industrial action.

However Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said that both the “UK Conservative and Welsh Labour Governments have to take a long, hard look at themselves to realise that opportunities have been lost time and time again” to show that support to NHS staff.

He said: “When is she going to negotiate? We have a Labour Government refusing to negotiate with trade unions. She said again that she is meeting unions; I meet unions. What we need to see is the opening of meaningful negotiations to try to avert the strikes.

“As one Royal College of Nursing member told me, ‘At this point, there’s very little difference between the English and Welsh Governments.

“Neither are supporting the workforce, no social partnership, no communication, the same pay award. So, why should anyone vote for a Labour Government when nothing is different?

“What is the Labour Government here doing to try to resolve these disputes in Wales, and when does the Minister plan to start negotiating?”

Conservative Russell George MS called on the health minister to take action, stating: “Frustratingly, you still point the finger to Westminster rather than take responsibility for your actions here.

“Now, this is your decision. They’re your responsibilities. You’ve got to cut the cloth here as you see fit here. We’ve got 3,000 nurse vacancies, and a spend on agency nurses of £140 million.

“Well, that’s due to your management of the NHS and your predecessors. These are decisions that you make here and you’ve got to take responsibility for what is within your gift.

However the minister reiterated her comments without the money a pay rise would come with difficult decisions.

She said: “The fact is, we’ve got a set amount of money. That’s it. So, we’ve got a choice: you either cut services or you cut the number of people in order to give a pay rise.

“Now, I don’t think that’s a space that the trade unions will want to enter, but obviously that is an option.

“But, I think we’ve got to be absolutely clear here: there is no more money. There is no more money.

“We’re in Government—I think it’s really important for people to understand—and we are working in a system that was agreed with the trade unions; it’s an independent pay commission where everybody gives their evidence, they all say what they’d like to see, and this has gone on for years, and suddenly we’re in a different place.

“Now, I understand we’re in a different place because, actually, inflation is very, very different from what it’s been in the past. So, I completely understand why these workers are upset.

“But, let me say again, let me be absolutely clear: it’s not just about one group of workers; this is about all of the workers in the NHS. So, you can’t single one group out and say, ‘Nurses are more important than porters.’

“There is an ‘Agenda for Change’ and I am meeting with representatives of the health unions next week to see whether there is any scope anywhere for us to address this issue and to avoid that industrial action.”