Posted: Wed 14th Dec 2022

First Minister accused of failing to enter ‘meaningful discussions’ to resolve nurses strike

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Dec 14th, 2022

Wales’ First Minister has come under fire over a lack of negotiations with unions to stop an upcoming nurses strike.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are set to take industrial action tomorrow and December 20 amid calls for a fair pay rise and patient safety.

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

In 2021/22, NHS Wales spent £133.4m on agency nursing, an increase of 41% on the previous year.

This is equivalent to the salaries of 4,930 newly qualified nurses, RCN said.

Last month RCN said that despite the historic ballot for strike action, the Welsh Government had not been forthcoming with negotiations.

Yesterday Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford came under fire by opposition parties for not doing enough to stop the scheduled strike action.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies asked why no offer was submitted by the Health Minister to try and resolve the dispute.

He added: “You have additional money coming in the announcement that the Chancellor made in his recent announcement of £1.2 billion coming forward over the next two years.

“You have taken a political choice not to resolve or at least enter meaningful discussions by not tabling any offer whatsoever yesterday, as the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing highlighted in her statement.

“I can hear your backbenchers whinging and moaning, they are the ones who pressed the button in a debate only two weeks ago to deny the nurses a pay increase to meet the cost of living.

“You have the means to do it, will you re-engage in those negotiations and use those levers to put a meaningful proposal to the Royal College of Nursing and other medical professions to avoid the strike action?”

However, the First Minister fired back at the leader of the opposition and described Mr Davies as “utterly shameless and utterly without shame.”

Mr Drakeford said there was no money in the Welsh Government’s budget to offer a pay rise higher than proposed by the independent pay award body.

He added: “He comes to the floor of the Senedd here when his government in Westminster ended a meeting in acrimony with the Royal College of Nursing only last night because they refused to put, as the leader of the RCN said, a single penny on the table to increase the pay of nurses in England, which would have led to, as they all know, a Barnett consequential that we could have used for pay here in Wales.

“That is the only way in which we are able to make a better offer here.

“We are tied entirely by the decisions that are made on pay by his colleagues in Westminster. That is the place that he should be lobbying.

“The minute that his ministers are prepared to make a better offer for nurses in England, we will be able to make that offer here in Wales.

“If he is serious—I can’t imagine for a minute that he would be— that we should divert all the money that we have received from the UK Government not for pay but to invest in the service of the NHS, that we should divert all of that away from sustaining the service and into pay, he should say that explicitly this afternoon, because people in Wales would be interested to hear that.”

But Mr Davies described the devolved government as taking a “political decision” to have the fight rather than “use the tools available to resolve it.”

He said: “It’s at your door this is lying and no-one else. I implore you to get back to the negotiating table and resolve this issue as a matter of urgency, so that we don’t see the despair and despondency that people are facing week in, week out with increased waiting times.”

Mr Drakeford said: “The offer that we have made is the offer that was recommended by the independent pay review body.

“We’ve paid that in full, and we have negotiated with our colleagues in the trade union movement to shape that offer in a way that actually means that nurses on bands 1 to 4 of ‘Agenda for Change’, which is almost half the nurses in Wales, will receive 7.5 per cent uplift in their pay. Nurses on band 1, the lowest paid, will get an uplift of 10.8 per cent in their pay.

“The leader of the opposition says to me that we could raise money through raising taxes here in Wales. He’s made that suggestion to me in the past.

“It’s an astonishing suggestion for him to make. As a result of the decisions made in the autumn statement, taxes levied on people in Wales are higher than they have been for the last 70 years.”

The First Minister faced similar criticism from Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, who asked why the Scottish Government had been able to avert a similar strike without help from the Westminster Government.

He said: “Rishi Sunak has said that an inflationary pay increase for all public sector workers would cost £28 billion; the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that’s an inflated figure, because it doesn’t include the pay deals already offered.

“Now, last week Eluned Morgan said that an inflationary pay increase would cost £900 million in Wales.

“But again, that’s across the entire public sector, doesn’t acknowledge the over-£200 million that you’ve already committed as part of your current offer to NHS staff.

“So what, First Minister, would it take to top up what you’ve already offered to the 7.5 per cent pay award that has averted the strikes in Scotland?.”

The First Minister replied that taking money out of the budget to fund pay increases would impact other NHS services.

He said: “I urge the Westminster Government to negotiate in a way that allows us in Wales to be able to do what we would wish to do, and that is to make sure that the people who carry out those front-line services, the things we rely on all the time, are properly rewarded for their service.

“We’ve had it dreamed up on both sides of the chamber this afternoon, magical solutions that say that somehow we are in a position in Wales to do something uniquely that isn’t available across the border, by raising taxes, according to the Tories—astonishing, absolutely astonishing.

“‘Use the powers you’ve got’, I keep hearing from the leader of the opposition, and the powers we’ve got, that he points to, are to take more money in taxes from people in Wales.

“So, it’s, ‘Raise taxes’ on one side of the chamber, and it’s, ‘Take money away from services in the NHS’ on the other.

“This government has made its decision. We support all those people whose working lives have been so badly affected by a decade of austerity and the profound economic mismanagement that has led us to the position of the economy in the UK today.

“And, when fair pay is available through the UK Government, then we will make sure that we use any of that money to advance the cause of fair pay here in Wales.”

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