Strike action is looming over the NHS in Scotland following the decision by three health unions to reject a pay deal, leading the health secretary to impose a pay offer on nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff.
A new poll, from Savanta for The Scotsman, which was undertaken between December 16 and 21 and interviewed 1,048 Scottish adults aged 16 or over online, demonstrates the scale of support for striking workers and, in particular, nurses.
Two thirds of Scots (66 per cent) say they would support nurses should they strike, with a quarter (23 per cent) stating they would oppose the move.
This support is slightly down from the corresponding October survey when 68 per cent said they would support striking nurses.
However, support for doctor’s strikes has increased, rising from 54 per cent in October to 56 per cent this month, and opposition dropping one percentage point from 31 per cent to 30 per cent.
Overall, 64 per cent of Scots back industrial action by workers, with 30 per cent opposing the move – a five-point net drop in support.
SNP voters are most likely to back striking workers, with more than three quarters (77 per cent) stating they either strongly or somewhat support them, just above Scottish Labour voters, with 76 per cent backing striking workers, though data states that is not as strong support.
Scottish Conservative voters are least likely to support striking nurses, with more than half (54 per cent) opposing strike action, and just one in three (30 per cent) backing industrial action.
The poll was concluded on the day the Royal College of Nursing announced it was rejecting the pay offer from the Scottish Government. The deal was also knocked back by the Royal College of Midwives and GMB. Unite and Unison accepted the offer.
Colin Poolman, director of RCN Scotland, said 82 per cent of the union’s members rejected the deal, with strike action set to be outlined next month.
He said: “There is no doubt that our members are long overdue a pay increase for this year, but this is not the Christmas present they deserve. RCN members rejected this offer and now, for the second year in a row, the Scottish Government is ignoring them and imposing what is a real-terms pay cut.”
Mr Yousaf met with representatives from trade unions before Christmas to inform them the pay offer, which will see wages rise by an average of 7.5 per cent and 11.3 per cent for the lowest earners, will go through in the new year.
The health secretary said in a fresh statement: “I remain absolutely committed to meaningful dialogue with trade unions in order to avert strike action and I am prepared to meet throughout the festive period to continue the dialogue we have had over a significant period now.
"I need to be upfront and honest that I have no more money for pay in 2022/23. However, I am keen to discuss how we make progress on significant non-pay issues that are important for the sustainability of the workforce, and also how we make early progress on next year’s pay deal.
“Given that the majority of unions representing the majority of unionised Agenda for Change staff have accepted the pay deal, I have already said that we will now move to implement this record pay deal. I believe it is right to get additional money into the pay packet of NHS staff in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.
“The largest union, Unison, and others have called on the Scottish Government to implement the deal without delay, so NHS workers can get the rise and backdated pay as soon as possible.
“NHS staff need the certainty of a pay uplift in this financial year, and I can only do this by implementing the deal now. This deal is the biggest since devolution, represents an investment of over half a billion pounds and ensures our hard working NHS staff remain the best paid in the UK.”
Nicola Sturgeon had told the Scottish Parliament at the final First Minister’s Questions of the year last week there was no more money available, stating: “We will do everything within our power and resources, which have been expanded this year, to avoid industrial action”.