National Health Service (NHS) nurses in Britain Thursday staged their first ever national walkout and strike. The industrial action comes in the wake of unsuccessful efforts to negotiate pay with the government to match quickly rising inflation. Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the nurses’ union, maintains that nurses have faced “real-terms pay cuts” of 20 percent since 2010 and asserts that the government must pay nurses fairly.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen met with the Health Secretary Steve Barclay on December 12 in an attempt to start formal pay negotiations but he “refused” to discuss pay. The Health Secretary has stated that the RCN’s demand for a 17.6 percent pay increase to match inflation is “neither reasonable nor affordable” and raises would increase inflation. The government has instead pledged a pay rise of at least £1,400, an amount calculated by an independent body. The Health Secretary has also formally started the process of deciding the pay for next year.
The RCN announced strike dates of the December 15 and 20 but warned that “these strikes could be the beginning of a longer period of action if governments continue to refuse formal pay negotiations, or if pay talks don’t result in a satisfactory outcome.”
While strikes go ahead in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Scottish government has returned to negotiations with the RCN, pausing strike action. The UK has faced similar strikes in recent months as dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the cost-of-living crisis soars. Criminal barristers and University Staff have also conducted industrial action in a bid for better pay and working conditions.