British nurses walk out again, threaten further strikes in pay dispute

NHS nurses cast shadows as they strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Britain December 15, 2022. Photographer Henry Nicholls/Files

By Reuters

Nurses in Britain went on strike for the second time this month on Tuesday, and their union threatened to escalate a dispute over pay by setting out further strike days if the government does not respond to its demands within 48 hours.

The industrial action by up to 100,000 nurses is unprecedented in the British nursing union’s 106-year history, but it says it has no choice as workers struggle to make ends meet with inflation running at more than 10%.

The government has offered nurses around 4% and declined to discuss pay further, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying the nurses’ demand for a pay rise of 5% plus inflation would equate to a 19% hike and is unaffordable.

“Let’s get this wrapped up by Christmas. I will negotiate with him at any point to stop nursing staff and patients going into the new year facing such uncertainty,” the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union Pat Cullen said.

“But if this government isn’t prepared to do the right thing, we’ll have no choice but to continue in January and that will be deeply regrettable.”

The RCN said it was giving the government 48 hours from the end of Tuesday’s walk out to respond, before it announces further strike dates.

Britain is facing a wave of industrial action this winter, with ambulance workers also due to strike on Wednesday, as the government prepares to use the military to step in and drive ambulances.

“Our door is open to discuss with the unions anything relating to working conditions. What we can’t do is go back into reopening the pay award,” junior health minister Will Quince told Sky News.