British ministers were meeting with trade unions on Monday to try to bring an end to a wave of strikes across sectors from healthcare to transport as workers demand higher pay.
With pay rises failing to keep up with double-digit inflation, which is now around 40-year highs, nurses, ambulance staff and rail workers are among those who have staged walkouts, with teachers also being balloted over action.
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Teaching unions, who will announce the result of their strike ballots later this week, are due to meet with the education minister, while the health minister held talks with unions representing ambulance workers and nurses, and the transport minister will meet rail unions.
Following the meeting with health minister Steve Barclay, Unite trade union national lead officer Onay Kasab said the government made it clear that it wanted to discuss productivity savings in return for a further pay award.
“We’re talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway, just to get the job done,” he told reporters. “Today is an insult to our members.”
The head of health at Unison, Sara Gorton, said holding talks on pay was progress, but the union did not get what it needed to call off upcoming strikes.
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 focus on pay rises for the next financial year.
The government has argued that inflation-matching pay rises will only fuel further price increases and cause interest rates and mortgage payments to go up further.
During a visit to a health center earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters the government was happy to discuss pay demands which were “anchored in what’s reasonable, what’s responsible, what’s affordable for the country.”
Asked about media reports the government was considering making a one-off payment to nurses to help with the cost of
living, Sunak declined to comment on specifics.
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