UK ambulance workers announce strike over Christmas period

Soldiers are being trained to step in during walkouts

NHS ambulance workers across England and Wales will strike on December 21. EPA
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Thousands of ambulance workers and other staff working for the UK’s National Health Service will strike on December 21 in a row over pay, unions have announced.

The industrial action will pile further pressure on the government to resolve disputes as rail workers prepare for further walkouts over the busy Christmas period.

The GMB, Unison and Unite unions have accused the Conservative government of ignoring pleas for a decent wage rise, as they co-ordinated strikes across England and Wales.

More than 10,000 ambulance workers across nine NHS trusts will strike, the GMB said.

The action, set to severely disrupt services, will take place a day after members of the Royal College of Nursing stage their second walkout. Their first strike will take place on December 15.

Paramedics, Emergency Care Assistants, call handlers and other staff will also walk out on December 28.

In anticipation of strikes, the government has been training about 2,000 soldiers, civil servants and other volunteers to step in to drive ambulances, serve with fire brigades and take the place of Border Force staff.

The GMB named nine ambulance services which will be affected, including the South-East Coast Ambulance Service, North-West Ambulance Service, West Midlands Ambulance Service and Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

Representatives of the union are due to meet individual trusts to discuss measures which will be put in place to ensure “life-and-limb” cover.

Travellers in Britain face disruption over the Christmas and New Year period due to strikes. Getty

Rachel Harrison, the GMB's national secretary, said staff were left with “no choice” but to strike.

“After 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, NHS staff have had enough,” she said.

“The last thing they want to do is take strike action but the government has left them with no choice.

“Health Secretary Steve Barclay needs to listen and engage with us about pay. If he can’t talk to us about this most basic workforce issue, what on Earth is he Health Secretary for?

“The government could stop this strike in a heartbeat — but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on Monday announced strikes over the Christmas period — the latest in a months-long dispute with the government over jobs, pay and working conditions.

Thousands of workers will walk out during two 48-hour strikes planned for before Christmas, and two in the New Year.

The dates pencilled into the calendar so far are December 13, 14, 16 and 17. In the New Year walkouts are scheduled for January 3, 4, 6 and 7.

The RMT rejected an offer from train operators aimed at preventing strikes over the busy travel period. The proposal put forward by the Rail Delivery Group would have supported pay increases of up to 8 per cent, covering 2022 and 2023 pay awards.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s chief spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that the government saw this as a “generous and fair” deal.

“I believe that the RMT needs to take this offer seriously,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that the RMT has chosen to take further damaging action,” he added.

The government is in the process of passing legislation which would ensure that train services run at a certain level even during strikes.

The spokesman said the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is designed to balance the rights of workers to strike with the rights of the public to travel.

Unite said more than 1,600 of its members at the West Midlands, North-West and North-East ambulance service trusts will join the walkout.

The action is a “stark warning” to the government that it must stem the “crisis” engulfing the NHS, the union said.

Sharon Graham, Unite's general secretary, said staff are “in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself”.

She warned patients’ lives are already at risk due to the health service being overwhelmed. She accused the government of “sitting on the sidelines, dodging its responsibility to sort out the crisis that it has created”.

“Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the pay review body,” she said. “They know full well it does not address the desperate need to get huge numbers of NHS workers off the breadline.

“Fail to act now to avert these strikes and the blame will rest firmly at the government’s door.”

Jason Kirkham, a Unite member and paramedic in the West Midlands, said the strike action is not just about pay, but also to “save the NHS” which it said is “crumbling” under pressure.

“We can’t recruit and retain staff as pay is so low,” he said. “It has got so bad that we have had to open a food bank in my ambulance station.”

Throughout the strike, Unite said it will maintain essential emergency cover for patients.

Unite continues to ballot 10,000 more NHS workers at 38 different employers across England and Wales, with the results expected later this month.

Strikes in the UK — in pictures

Ambulance crews in Unison working for five services in England — London, Yorkshire, the North-West, North East and South-West — will strike.

Unison said its strike, involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew members, will run from noon until midnight.

The union is on the cusp of staging another ballot of around 13,000 NHS staff working for 10 trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell just short of the threshold required by law.

Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said: “The government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas.”

“Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone but ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption — that’s start genuine talks about pay.

“Wages are too low to stop health workers quitting the NHS. As more and more hand in their notice, there are fewer staff left to care for patients. The public knows that’s the reason behind lengthy waits at A&E, growing ambulances delays, postponed operations and cancelled clinics.

“Threatened NHS strikes in Scotland were called off because ministers there understand higher wages and improved staffing levels go hand in hand. Unfortunately, the penny’s yet to drop for the Westminster government.”

Updated: December 06, 2022, 1:37 PM