Unions call for ‘meaningful’ Government talks amid wave of strikes

Unions are calling on the Government to engage in “meaningful” pay talks amid the wave of strikes sweeping the country.

Border Force staff became the latest workers to announce industrial action over the Christmas period, with nurses, paramedics and postal workers among those already going on strike in the coming weeks.

The RMT union said resolution to the ongoing rail dispute is “further away” after late intervention by the Government in talks aimed at resolving the row over pay, jobs and conditions.

In Scotland, members of two teachers’ unions, the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) and the NASUWT, are entering a second day of strike action on Thursday, while offshore oil workers will begin two days of strike action over pay and working conditions.

UK strikes in December
(PA Graphics)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised “tough” new laws to limit the impact of strike action but these are unlikely to be introduced in time to prevent disruption over the Christmas period.

The Prime Minister did not rule out banning strikes in emergency services, after Downing Street suggested his measures will include widening long-delayed legislation to ensure minimum levels of service during industrial action on transport to other public services.

But Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, told the Prime Minister on Wednesday “we are ready industrially and financially” to challenge any new measures.

In a joint letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and the chairwoman of the union public sector liaison group and general secretary of Unison, Christina McAnea, accused ministers of refusing to negotiate in good faith and of “hiding behind” pay review bodies.

Criticising the Government’s approach to negotiations, the union leaders said all requests for meaningful talks on pay have been stonewalled.

They said: “No public sector workers want to take strike action this winter. They are committed public servants who take great pride in their jobs and the communities they serve.

“But the Government has left them with no choice.

“Good industrial relations require both parties to be willing to negotiate in good faith and to have open conversations.

“When your Cabinet colleagues have met unions, they have repeatedly refused to talk about public sector pay. Ignoring the main issue on the table isn’t a negotiation.

“Ministers cannot continue to hide behind pay review bodies. The Government sets their remit.

“If ministers genuinely want to resolve these disputes, they must address what’s causing them.”

Highlighting “huge” pay cuts public sector workers have suffered, the union leaders warned: “With CPI inflation over 11% and RPI inflation above 14%, frontline workers are facing another massive real-terms hit to their wages.

“Nurses, ambulance staff, teachers and millions of other key workers have already seen their living standards decimated with over a decade of pay cuts and wage freezes.

“Nurses today are earning £5,000 a year less in real terms than they were in 2010 and hospitals and schools are having to set up food banks for staff.

“This cannot go on.

“Every month dedicated employees are quitting public services in droves – tired of being taken for granted and of services being run down.”

They called for an urgent meeting with the Chancellor, saying: “It’s time to raise taxes on wealth – not workers.

“Now is not the time for smoke and mirrors. Now is the time for genuine negotiations.”