Greater Manchester ambulance staff on strike in industrial dispute over pay

Staff say the pay award they have received falls well short of current inflation rates.

Ambulance staff in Greater Manchester are on strike in a dispute over pay.

Hundreds of employees at the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) who are members of the Unite, GMB and Unison trade unions are on the picket line on Wednesday (21 December).

Trade union Unite says there is anger among staff at the pay award which fell well below current inflation rates and is therefore not good enough in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

Hundreds of staff members who operate the emergency vehicles in the city-region as well as in Merseyside, Cheshire, Cumbria and Glossop are involved.

The ambulance service said waits to get to hospital on the strike day were inevitable, with life-threatening emergencies being prioritised. NWAS also urged people to use other parts of the NHS system wherever possible.

Why are ambulance staff taking strike action?

Unite says NWAS staff, including paramedics and emergency call handlers, successfully balloted for strike action due to anger about the pay award in the NHS Agenda for Change which they received earlier this year. The trade union says a pay rise of around 4% which was in the deal falls considerably short of the retail price index (RPI), a measure of inflation looking at the cost of a basket of goods and services, which stood at 12.6% in September.

The imposed award meant most staff received an increase of around £100 per month in their pay packet, the trade union said. It regards this as an unacceptable pay offer due to the current cost of living crisis.

The result of the ballot, which ran from Wednesday 26 October to 30 November, was in favour of strike action. Unite said that in an earlier consultative ballot over pay its NWAS members voted 92% in favour of strike action, with 98% saying the pay award announced by the UK government in July 2022 was unfair.

Unite, Unison and GMB ambulance service staff are all on strike on 21 December. GMB members are also due to strike for a second 24-hour period on 28 December.

What has been said about the strike ballot?

Unite regional officer Gary Owen said: “The anger amongst our North West Ambulance Service members at rapidly diminishing living standards, increasingly threadbare services and ever more unsustainable workloads, is such that we have balloted for strike action. The government must put forward a better pay deal and one that does not come out of existing, soon to be horrifically squeezed, budgets.”

The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself. These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this government.

Ambulance staff are being balloted for strike action over pay. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

“Patients’ lives are already at risk but this government is 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. 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.”

A statement on the North West Ambulance Service website for the strike day read: “Following the announcement of industrial action, we have worked closely with our unions and staff to ensure that we are able to continue to deliver a response to the most serious emergencies for our patients and to agree an approach for the days when industrial actions is taking place.

“This has focussed on consideration to support colleagues’ right to take action in collaboration with potential impacts on patient care. The priority throughout has been balancing patient safety with the right to strike.

“On the day of action, despite utilising some resources from external sources, the trust will be operating with reduced capacity. As much as we can, we will prioritise those with life-threatening conditions but it is important to acknowledge that ambulance waits are to be expected. Those with less serious conditions are likely to be asked to seek alternatives.

“The assistance of the public is vital so for illness or injury which is not life-threatening, people should seek help and advice from their own GP, a pharmacist, or via NHS 111 Online at 111.nhs.uk or find other means of transport to an emergency care centre.”