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British government offers new pay deal to health workers

Trade unions representing Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) workers managed to find common ground with the government Thursday in a major breakthrough aimed at bringing an end to long-running strikes over a pay dispute. 

The deal gives a 5% pay rise for NHS staff, including nurses and ambulance workers. The new rates will start from April and a one-off payment of at least £1,655 ($2,004) will also be paid to top up the past year's pay award. The offer covers all NHS staff except doctors, who are on a different contract.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and GMB unions said they would recommend members accept the offer, but Unite the Union said they would not. However, the union said members ultimately make the final decision and further strikes will still be paused while the offer is being considered by the members.

The government and NHS Staff Council, which includes the unions, released a joint statement, which said: “Both sides believe (the offer) represents a fair and reasonable settlement that acknowledges the dedication of NHS staff, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures currently facing the UK.”

Tens of thousands of nurses, paramedics and other healthcare staff went on strike during the Christmas festive season and again in January and February.

An offer of 3.5% from April had been originally suggested by the government, but during the talks, ministers agreed to increase this to 5%. The lowest paid will get even more.

While health workers find a way to solve their issues, the junior doctors in the country are also eyeing a new offer. Tens of thousands of junior doctors in England launched a three-day strike Monday in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The British Medical Association (BMA), an association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK, has been campaigning for a pay rise for months in the country, which has been severely hit by a cost-of-living crisis.

Prior to the start of the industrial action, the BMA launched an advertising campaign saying junior doctors could earn more serving coffee at UK cafe chain Pret a Manger.

"Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 ($17) per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09. Thanks to this government, you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week, junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth," it said.

It said junior doctors in England have suffered a 26.1% real-term cut to their pay since 2008/09 and are campaigning for pay restoration.

While the UK’s healthcare system has always had problems, things have lately taken a turn for the worse amid the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war, Brexit and a deepening cost-of-living crisis, reports by unions, universities and independent think tanks showed.

One in 10 healthcare workers quit their jobs in the 12 months prior to June last year, according to a study by Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank in the UK.

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