A nursing union has lodged a formal trade dispute against the Welsh Government, as tensions over NHS pay continue to build.

The Royal College of Nursing Wales has opened the dispute over the Welsh Government's below-inflation pay award to NHS staff, after its members voted overwhelmingly to reject it.

By law, industrial action can only be taken by a union "in furtherance of a trade dispute".

The move has been backed by Plaid Cymru, with health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth, branding the current 3 per cent offer "a real-terms decrease in pay".

RCN Wales Director Helen Whyley said: “Safe and effective care for patients must be a priority for the Welsh Government.

"Despite the First Minister announcing £991m of new funding available for NHS Wales, none of it has been earmarked for nurses’ pay.

"Patients are waiting for treatment and care and nursing staff are needed to deliver that.

"There are over 1,700 vacancies for registered nurses in NHS Wales and the Welsh Government needs to address this.

"For the past 18 months nursing staff have gone above and beyond in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic but now they feel undervalued, disenfranchised and angry.

"That’s why 94% voted that a 3% pay rise is totally unacceptable."

The National Wales: RCN Wales chief Helen Whyley called the 3% pay award "totally unacceptable" (Photo: RCN)RCN Wales chief Helen Whyley called the 3% pay award "totally unacceptable" (Photo: RCN)

The announcement comes after emergency talks between the Health Minister and NHS unions broke down this week.

UNISON Cymru said it was left "bitterly disappointed" with negotiations, calling the Welsh Government offer of a one-off boost of one per cent and an extra day's annual leave "patronising".

READ MORE: Wales NHS workers reject 3 percent pay rise amid strike warnings

Hugh McDyer, UNISON Cymru Wales head of health, said yesterday:“NHS employees have worked through the toughest 18 months of their lives.

"They put caring for people ahead of their own welfare during a deadly pandemic.

“They’ve had 10 years of pay freezes or low pay awards which have squeezed living standards.

"Then the Welsh government says they’re imposing a pay rise below the rate of inflation.

“The 5,400 lowest paid staff won’t even receive the full 3 per cent because Welsh government says their pay was boosted by an increase to the Foundation Living Wage.

"Talk about dividing the workforce."

The language of priorities

Responding to RCN's announcement, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have followed the recommendations from the independent NHS Pay Review Body and the Doctors and Dentist Review Body to award all NHS staff a 3 per cent pay rise.

READ MORE: Welsh NHS facing "most difficult winter in history"

"This recommendation was based on evidence submitted by all parties including trade unions.

“We hope NHS workers understand how much we value their work and appreciate everything they have done.

"“As well as the pay rise, earlier this year we also awarded NHS staff with a one-off payment of £735 per person.

"After deductions most people will have received £500.

"We have had a number of constructive meetings over previous weeks to see how we are able to enhance the pay award for NHS Wales.

"While it is disappointing that the RCN felt unable to participate in these discussions, we remain committed to offering a package of enhancements within the funding available.

"While we want to invest in our workforce we also need to invest in delivering vital NHS services.”

The National Wales: The health minister said last week that the government would need "a magic money tree" to up NHS payThe health minister said last week that the government would need "a magic money tree" to up NHS pay

A Senedd debate on NHS pay last week turned heated, with Health Minister Eluned Morgan suggesting that without further funds from Westminster, a higher pay award would mean cuts elsewhere.

“You have to be serious about politics - you are not serious," she said.

“It's about the language of priorities.”

Hiding Behind Westminster

Critics have suggested, however, that the Welsh Government is being misleading in its claims that a higher pay rise is unaffordable.

RCN chief Helen Whyley told The National last week that the below-inflation pay rise was "a political choice", and insisted that the union's economic modelling showed that a higher award is achievable.

NHS nurse and pay campaigner Matthew Tovey, meanwhile, accused the government of "hiding behind Westminster" to avoid negotiating, pointing to the £2billion in unallocated funds in the Welsh Government's budget.

The National Wales: Matthew Tovey delivered a petition for a 15% NHS pay rise, signed by over 800,000 people, to Downing Street this summer (Photo: Matthew Tovey)Matthew Tovey delivered a petition for a 15% NHS pay rise, signed by over 800,000 people, to Downing Street this summer (Photo: Matthew Tovey)

Tovey, from Merthyr Tydfil, said:“I think people think we’re being greedy, but we’re not – the NHS is central to society.

“When you’re ill, you need someone by that bedside with adequate training – it’s essential for quality of care.

“We aren’t able to do it, because we haven’t got the staff.

“It’s not even just about the pay, as such – it’s about getting people back on the wards, getting these departments running again, tackling these waiting lists.”

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