LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of health workers in Britain will strike on Monday to protest against a pay freeze, the first walk out over pay in the country’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) for over thirty years.
The government has rejected trade union calls for a 1 percent pay rise for some nurses, midwives, ambulance and support staff in hospitals in England and Northern Ireland.
The health workers are staging a four hour walk-out on Monday, followed by four days of action short of strike. The unions say urgent and emergency care won’t be affected but some routine appointments and services will be.
“Our NHS members don’t take action often or lightly. For many, it will be the first time they walk out as the last action over pay was 32 years ago,” Dave Prentis, the general secretary of trade union Unison, which represents 300,000 health workers in England, said.
Defending the government’s stance, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that 55 percent of NHS workers were receiving a 3 percent pay rise through annual job progression-based rises and the country did not have the resources to go further than that.
“We can’t afford to offer 1 percent on top of the 3 percent,” Hunt told BBC radio. “We’ve had very clear analysis that if we did that, hospital chief executives would lay off around 4,000 nurses this year and around 10,000 nurses next year.”
Those workers not in line for an automatic job progression wage increase have been awarded a 1 percent increase.
The British economy is set to grow faster than other major advanced economies this year, but wage growth has remained subdued, resulting in a fall in living standards that has become the opposition Labour Party’s main line of attack on the Conservative-led government before a May 2015 national election.
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