Nurses in England reject pay offer, plan more strikes for improved deal

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LONDON - Nurses in England have voted to reject the government's new pay deal, their trade union said, setting out further strikes that will put the National Health Service under more strain as nurses hold out for a higher wage offer.

About 54% of nurses who took part in a ballot voted to reject the pay deal, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) - who had recommended members accept the deal - said on Friday. The turnout was 61% of eligible members.

The RCN said its members would stage a round-the-clock 48-hour strike from April 30, which for the first time will be joined by nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt.

The result represents a setback for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government, which has been dealing with pay disputes involving hundreds of thousands of striking public workers as wages fail to keep up with double-digit inflation.

Tens of thousands of nurses have taken part in multiple waves of strikes since December, in an unprecedented step that brought disruption to an already strained NHS dealing with record patient backlogs and serious staff shortages.

"Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line," RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a letter to the country's health minister Steve Barclay.

"Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible ... After a historic vote to strike, our members expect a historic pay award."

The result of the ballot comes after the government and healthcare trade unions agreed on a pay proposal comprising a one-off payment of 2% of 2022/23 salaries and a 5% pay rise for the 2023/24 year, which began earlier this month.

Most unions including the RCN had recommended their members accept the offer, even though they had generally sought wage hikes more in line with inflation, which has been near 10% in recent months.

Earlier on Friday, Unison, which represents ambulance staff and others health workers, said its members have voted to accept the offer.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Muvija M; Editing by Alistair Smout)

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