The Welsh government looks set to offer a one-off payment to NHS workers in a bid to stop the ongoing industrial action.
Ambulance workers are set to stage a walkout this week and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that further strikes could also be taken this year.
Unions representing NHS workers have been calling for a fair pay deal due to the rise of inflation and also improved working conditions for staff.
In July 2022 Health Minister Eluned Morgan accepted the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB), for all NHS staff on Agenda for Change terms and conditions – including nurses, cleaners, porters, healthcare support workers and healthcare professionals, is for a £1,400 pay rise on most pay grades.
For the lowest paid staff (bands 1 to 4), which make up nearly half of the Agenda for Change workforce, this will on average equate to a 7.5% pay rise on pay grades.
The starting salary for the lowest paid roles in band 1 and the bottom of band 2 in NHS Wales will now be £20,758, this equates to a pay rise of 10.8% this financial year for this band.
The health service has come under increased demand since the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the recent cold weather and a rise in cases of flu, Strep A and covid.
Speaking at a press conference this morning, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that ministers had been working over the last three weeks to help stop the industrial action and to make an offer to NHS workers.
He confirmed that a letter had been sent to health unions to discuss a one off payment for NHS workers, to find a way forward to improve working conditions, reduce agency spend and to restore confidence in the pay award body.
Talks are expected to take place next week.
Mr Drakeford said: “We recognise and respect the strength of feeling demonstrated by members in these ballots and through the industrial action taken.
“We know that these are never decisions which have been reached lightly and we remain committed to working in social partnership with our trade unions to explore a way to resolve current disputes.
“It was in that context that on Friday of last week the health minister wrote to help unions in Wales to invite them to discuss an offer to try and resolve current disputes.
“We have worked very hard across the government and across the Christmas period to bring together the resources which underpin the offer an offer which has three elements for discussion and for negotiation.”
However the first minister would not be drawn on how much the one-off payment would be and whether health workers were being treated as a “special case in all of the potential disruption” expected this year.
He said: “We will begin discussions this week with our health trade unions because there are actual disputes and actual strikes taking place in that sector. That does not rule out of course, continuing to discuss with trade union colleagues in other sectors, the issues which they are facing potential solutions we could offer here in Wales.
“I anticipate that I’m likely to disappoint you during the next half hour by not being able to share specifics over amounts of money or how it might be used.
“These are negotiations with our trade union colleagues, it would be disrespectful I feel not to put those issues in discussion with them first.
“Once we’ve had those discussions we will of course share more of the details, but it’s right and proper that the people who we are directly in discussions with get to hear some of those further details when we have the opportunity to be around the table together.”
The first minister also described it as a “coincidence” that both the Welsh and UK governments were considering a one-off pay deal to health workers.
Unison represents tens of thousands of NHS staff in Wales, it has said officials will meet with Welsh government health minister Eluned Morgan on Thursday for key talks.
Dawn Ward, chair of the Unison Wales health committee, said: “Health workers in Wales are at breaking point with unprecedented demand on the NHS combined with a pay packet that does not come close to coping with the sky-rocketing cost-of-living crisis.
“We need an immediate solution from Welsh government to tackle the ever-worsening issues of pay and conditions for the many thousands of health workers UNISON represents across Wales.”
Hugh McDyer, head of health for Unison Wales, said: “UNISON is the largest health union in Wales, and we welcome the re-opening of talks with Welsh government.
“However, this is unlikely to prevent industrial action in the future or halt our re-balloting of ambulance workers in Wales which began on Friday January 6.
“Real solutions can only be reached in negotiations with the UK government in Westminster.
“The Welsh government has limited scope and we need to see the UK government having serious discussions not just about pay and conditions for health workers in the future but about the here and now.”