A leading union boss has told Rishi Sunak to “roll your sleeves up” as more NHS staff prepare to go on strike from tomorrow.
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the Unite union, accused the government of a “real abdication of responsibility” and claimed there was no-one at “at any level” involved in talks about pay in the NHS.
Tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in England are set to walk out on Monday — with nurses due to strike again the following day.
The unions and the government are at loggerheads over how to end the strikes after ministers repeatedly signalled that they will not budge on their pay demands.
Speaking ahead of the nurses and ambulance strikes tomorrow, Graham told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that she could “categorically” confirm that there were no conversations taking place between her union and the government.
Graham said neither Rishi Sunak nor Steve Barclay, the health secretary, were prepared to discuss pay.
“I can tell you categorically that there has been no conversations on pay whatsoever with Rishi Sunak or Steve Barclay about this dispute, in any way shape or form.
“They’ve danced around their handbag, they danced around the edges but they will not talk about pay.
“To me, that is an abdication of responsibility [as] the dispute is about pay – so how can they say they are in talks?”
Turning her fire on the prime minister, Graham asked: “Why is Rishi Sunak not coming to the table?
“Instead of doing sort of press conferences about other things, come to the table and negotiate – roll your sleeves up and negotiate on the pay in the NHS, that is what’s required.”
As well as nurses and ambulance workers, civil servants and teachers in Scotland will also take to the picket line on Monday in the dispute about pay and working conditions.
Firefighters also announced last week that they would go on strike for the first time in 20 years, after members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) rejected the below-inflation 5% pay offer last November.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack today said firefighters would return to work in the event of a major incident while out on strike.
“If there is a big fire, that’s a major incident, and as I say we’ve got an agreement that allows a return to work in certain circumstances.
“That’s happened in previous disputes. In fact, a Conservative minister approached me during one such incident and a return to work was agreed. That’s happened in the past, and we’ve seen it happen in other sectors.
“So we have examples of where we have resolved those particular sorts of threats.”
Nurses who are members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) walk out of 73 NHS trusts across England on Monday and Tuesday. Strike action in Wales has been called off after a new pay offer from the Welsh government.
Unite members will strike at four ambulance trusts on Monday, as will GMB members at eight NHS ambulance trusts.
On February 10, members Unison will take action which will affect some ambulance services.
Ahead of the strikes next week, Barclay, said: “It is regrettable that health unions are going ahead with strike action.
“NHS contingency plans are in place but these co-ordinated strikes will undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services.
“We accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body to give over 1 million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen.
“I have been having constructive talks with unions about what is affordable for 2023/24, and urge them to call off the strikes and come back around the table.”