UK trade unions meet with ministers in government bid to end strikes
With the UK’s inflation rate hitting double digits and sitting around 40-year highs, many sectors including rail workers, ambulance staff and nurses have staged industrial action, demanding a “decent” pay rise.
Despite negotiations, no solutions have been reached so far. Teachers and unionized doctors are also expected to take part in a walkout in the coming days due to below-inflation pay offers.
On Monday, which marked the first day in almost a month that the railways have not been disrupted by strikes, Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch said ministers should “stop play-acting” and end the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions on the railway.
Prior to his meeting with Rail Minister Huw Merriman, Lynch said: “Today I want to see the government stop play-acting because the truth, written in black and white in their rail contracts, is that they’ve been in complete control of this dispute from day one. The minister cannot hide behind this fairy story that he is just a facilitator. His government can end this dispute today by taking out the conditions they put in to torpedo a resolution and let the companies make a deal.”
The government is expected to announce legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in six sectors including rail, education and health services in the coming days.
The laws will require a proportion of union members to continue working to retain a "minimum level" of service. Strikes could be deemed illegal if unions refused to provide the minimum level.
According to Network Rail, which develops and operates Britain’s railway infrastructure, the industry has lost more than £400 million ($487 million) in revenue due to a total of 21 days of strikes since last summer.
Health secretary accused of ‘insulting’ health workers
Unite, one of the unions involved in talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay, has described what was put on the table as an “insult” to members.
Barclay has reportedly suggested that the health workers could get a one-off extra payment which would need to be evaluated according to their productivity. After the meeting, Unite negotiator Onay Kasab blasted the approach as an "insult" and said he was "angry," adding: “The government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right.”
Speaking to the press after the meeting, Onay said: “All the government are interested in is saying that in order to justify a payment, we need to come up with productivity savings in the National Health Service (NHS). Our members are working 18-hour shifts. How you become more productive with that I do not know.”
He said he was “extremely angry” while describing the meeting he had with the minister and his proposal.
“That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about. We are talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done, because they can’t hand patients over because they care so much,” he said.
Government hopeful of finding solution
During a visit to a health center Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the talks with unions were a "positive development."
"We've always said that the government is happy to talk about pay demands and pay issues that are anchored in what's reasonable, what's responsible, what's affordable for the country," Sunak told the media.
Unions have said they will only call off strikes in the next few weeks if offers are made to resolve the disputes over this year's pay settlement, while the government wants to negotiate pay rises for next year.
When asked about the one-off extra payment that the health secretary proposed to unions, Sunak declined to comment.