Nurses, paramedics reach pay deal to end England strikes

LONDON (AP) — Unions representing hundreds of thousands of nurses, ambulance crews and other health care workers in England reached a deal Thursday to resolve months of disruptive strikes for higher wages, though the pact didn't include doctors.

The announcement by a government spokesperson came as early-career physicians spent a third day on picket lines and the day after U.K. Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt announced a budget that included no additional money for labor groups that have staged crippling strikes amid a punishing cost-of-living crisis and double-digit inflation.

A wave of strikes by train drivers, airport baggage handlers, border staff, driving instructors and postal workers have created havoc for residents.

The deal, which must be approved by union members, includes a lump sum payment for the current year and a 5% raise next year.

Inflation in the U.K. dropped to 10.1% in January, down from a 40-year high of 11.1% in October. Skyrocketing food and energy costs have left some households struggling to pay their bills.

Unions argue that wages in the public sector have failed to keep pace with the soaring costs. But the Conservative government has argued that public sector pay increases of 10% or more would drive inflation even higher.

Firefighters, who canceled a planned strike, and London bus drivers recently reached deals to keep working. But many other professions remain locked in pay disputes. Tens of thousands of teachers, civil servants and workers on the capital's subway system all walked off the job on Wednesday.

Walkouts by health care workers put pressure on the British government to lift opposition to raises for staff in the U.K.’s overburdened public health system. Some leaders criticized health care workers for jeopardizing lives, though ambulance crews said they responded to the most urgent calls and emergency rooms were staffed.

The health care workers, including midwives and physical therapists, had been in talks since they held what organizers said was the largest strike in the history of the country’s National Health Service last month.

The labor actions echo the economic unrest that has rippled across in France and plans there to increase the retirement age.

The U.K.'s lackluster economy is likely to avoid a recession this year, though growth will still shrink. The International Monetary Fund last month said the country would be the only major economy to contract this year, performing even worse than sanctions-hit Russia.

A deal with nurses and others will ease some of the pain on the state-funded public health system, which has been beset by winter viruses, staff shortages and backlogs from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Melley, The Associated Press