A senior minister has insisted that “our door is always open” to union bosses, despite refusing to engage in pay negotiations with striking nurses.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said today that “we’re always willing to talk” with the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), but that its 19 per cent pay increase demand is “not affordable”.
Nurses walked out of hospitals across the country earlier this week in the biggest RCN strike action in history.
It comes as a part of widespread strike action by key workers – including paramedics, rail workers, airport staff and posties – which is causing serious disruption over the Christmas period.
Striking workers are calling for pay rises that match or exceed the UK’s near 11 per cent annual inflation rate.
The government has argued that it will not give pay rises above what was recommended by the public sector pay body, which has seen nurses on the lowest wages offered a pay rise of around 9 per cent.
Dowden said the government would not negotiate with unions about higher wages as the independent pay process “takes the politics out of the process”.
“The independent pay review bodies have looked at the level of inflation, by the way the expected level of inflation, they’ve looked at the pressure of the lowest paid workers,” he told the BBC
“By following that it ensures nurses will get a significantly higher pay settlement than they have done previously.”
RCN boss Pat Cullen has warned that strikes will escalate unless the government begins negotiations over pay and conditions.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote in The Sun today that “an increasing number” of rail union members “want a deal”.
“They are tired of being foot soldiers in Mick Lynch’s class war,” he said.
Labour is calling on the government to get around the negotiating table with striking unions and to come to a deal, however the party has not been clear on whether it would accept union demands.