The BMA’s Welsh specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctor committee (WSASC) has voted unanimously to ballot members for industrial action. WSASC chair Dr Ali Nazir said:
“We are burnt out. The decision to ballot for industrial action is upsetting for us because we want to serve our patients who are our top priority, but the Welsh Government has forced us to take this step by continuing to treat us with contempt.
“We have been clear with the Welsh Government that we are willing to re-enter negotiations if a credible offer for SAS doctors is provided.”
Where we are currently
In February 2023, the Welsh Government committed to the principle of full pay restoration back to 2008 levels. However, during our recent pay negotiations for 2023/24, the first and final offer the Welsh Government made was to uplift pay for those on the 2008 SAS contract by just 5% and for those on the 2021 contract by 1.5% in addition to the multi-year pay uplift already in place. This represents another real terms pay cut for SAS doctors on both contracts and was the worst offer in the UK. The offer was even below the recommendation of the pay review body for doctors and dentists (the DDRB).
We cannot allow the pay of hardworking SAS doctors to erode further. We rejected this offer and, with no other offer on the table, we feel our only choice is to ballot members for industrial action.
We have been clear that should a credible offer be made which makes good on the Welsh Government’s commitment to the principle of full pay restoration, we will re-enter negotiations.
Why we need full pay restoration
Since 2008/09, our basic pay has experienced a real terms (RPI) pay cut of up to 31.7%.
In 2022/23, despite the Welsh Government providing an additional uplift and making a commitment to the principle of full pay restoration, our pay still continued to erode in real terms. Once again in this pay year (2023/24) the offer to us was sub-inflationary. For those on the 2008 contract the offer was to uplift our pay by 5% and for those on the 2021 contract, due to the uplift already in place as part of the multi-year pay deal, it was just 1.5%. These sub-inflationary uplifts will only increase our pay erosion further.
The real terms reduction in our pay is devaluing SAS roles. We know that it’s making more SAS doctors retire early, reduce hours or consider moving overseas. To put it plainly, it’s making the role of a SAS doctor less appealing to those already in the role and for those who might consider a SAS career in the future. With the number of patients waiting to start treatment in Wales nearly three times higher than it was in 2009*, we need to take a stand now to prevent the further devaluing of SAS roles and ensure a strong SAS workforce to support the NHS in Wales. That’s why we’ve called for a ballot of SAS members in Wales.
*Number of patients waiting to start treatment in October 31 2009 was 224,717. Number of patients waiting to start treatment in August 2023 was 760,285. Data from StatsWales on Patient pathways waiting to start treatment by month.
When will I receive a ballot?
We’ve not yet confirmed what date the ballot will take place; this is because an emphatic mandate will be crucial in this dispute and failure is simply not an option. To ensure we get this right, we are currently undertaking some vital groundwork to ensure all the systems are in place to help make our ballot is a success. Following this critical work, we will be in a strong position to announce specific ballot dates.
You can play your part in accelerating this timeline by ensuring you are ballot-ready as soon as possible. Update your details.
If we rejected the pay offer, why did the Welsh Government then announce a pay rise?
Although we rejected the pay offer and are now working towards a ballot of BMA SAS members in Wales, the Welsh Government made the decision to impose the pay uplift upon us.
How have we reached this point?
As shown in the below graph and table, due to sub-inflationary pay uplifts, over the last 15 years our pay has steadily eroded to the point where we have now experienced up to a 31.7% real terms pay cut.
Pay negotiations with Welsh Government
We joined additional last-minute pay talks alongside other health unions, where the Welsh Government offered to increase the 2022/23 pay uplift from 4.5% to 6% and provide a one-off payment of 1.5%. These talks were to avert further strike action from other health unions. At that point, the BMA was not in a trade dispute with Welsh Government. As part of this, the Welsh Government also committed to the principle of full pay restoration to 2008 levels.
Although this pay award did not go anywhere near restoring SAS doctors’ pay, we made the decision to vote to accept this offer. We did so because we were nearing the end of the 2022/23 pay year and because the Minister agreed as part of the offer to enter immediately into pay talks for 2023/24. We did not feel this would stymie our campaign for SAS pay restoration going forward and felt members could benefit from receiving additional pay in the 2022/23 pay year.
We were invited to attend pay talks for the 2023/24 pay year.
We made internal preparations to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government.
Alongside colleagues from the other secondary care branches of practice, we entered pay talks with the Welsh Government. Government officials attended but with no pay envelope in which to negotiate, noting that a cabinet meeting was still required to consider this. We used the opportunity to outline the importance of providing a fair pay offer to doctors and of restoring pay to 2008/09 levels.
Pay talks resumed. The Welsh Government provided an opening and final offer of 5% for SAS doctors on the 2008 contract, and 1.5% for those on the 2021 contracts in addition to the existing multi-year pay deal. This was the worst pay offer for SAS doctors in the UK and was below even the DDRB recommendation for 2023/24. Our negotiation team withdrew from talks on the basis that no credible pay offer was on the table.
WSASC held an extraordinary meeting to consider the pay offer and unanimously decided to ballot members on taking industrial action.
The BMA’s UK Council then considered and approved the WSASC application to ballot for industrial action.
We wrote to the Welsh Government confirming BMA UK Council approval for balloting and making clear our willingness to come back to the negotiation table if a credible pay offer was made.
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