Nurses, ambulance staff and hospital cleaners balloted on strike action

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More than 400,000 health workers are set to vote on strike, threatening a massive escalation of industrial unrest across the country in escalating disputes over issues including wages.

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Unison announced that members of nursing staff and ambulance crews to hospital porters and cleaners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will vote in the coming weeks whether to campaign for industrial action.

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Members of other health associations representing nurses, midwives, ambulance workers and physiotherapists are also being voted on for industrial action.

Around one million NHS workers could join strikes and other forms of industrial action before Christmas.

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Unison’s secretary-general Christina McNay said the government’s decision to give a £1,400 pay increase over the summer had sparked anger among NHS workers, who resigned while in service.

She accused the Westminster government of treating unions as “enemies inside” and of ignoring pleas to discuss wages to prevent industrial action.

“They don’t want to talk to us – they want to defame us,” she said. “The NHS is bleeding staff and cannot recruit new staff, partly because the pay is so low.”

Ms McNay said NHS staff being asked to work double shifts, or to work extra hours on weekends due to staff shortages, has left them “tired”.

She said there would be so-called “life and limb” coverage if there was a strike, but added that many hospitals were already operating at such staffing levels because of the NHS recruitment crisis.

“Many of our members feel that they are already working at the strike level of the employees. If they go on strike, they hope the government will know how bad the situation is.

She predicted that any industrial action would be coordinated with other health unions, threatening the biggest strike in years, saying she could not guarantee services would not be affected.

“We would expect the Government of Westminster to speak to us, as they are facing a massive strike, but the rhetoric is just accusing us of being enemies.”

The Unison leader said that the railway employees have got public support for their strike and he is sure that nurses and other health workers will also get similar support.

Unison members will begin voting on October 27.

NHS workers went on strike across England over wages in 2014. The last time there was a massive strike in the UK over the wages of health workers was in 1982.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are giving over 1 million NHS workers a wage increase of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS pay review body.

“Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.”

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