Rishi Sunak has thrown his backing behind the government’s independent pay review process for public sector workers, despite this month’s widespread strikes.
The Prime Minister told MPs on a Westminster committee today that pay offers to striking NHS staff members were “fair” as Number 10 today said Sunak would not intervene to negotiate with unions.
An estimated 100,000 nurses went on strike again today as a part of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) second day of industrial action this month.
The UK’s independent pay review body recommended a £1,400 increase in pay this year for nurses, which is an average increase of 4.5 per cent.
Up to 10,000 ambulance staff will go on strike tomorrow and on 28 December, with workers asking for a pay rise that matches the UK’s near 11 per cent annual inflation rate.
Health secretary Steve Barclay has once again said the government will not budge on the pay offers, despite the widespread disruption to hospitals and emergency services.
Sunak told parliament’s Liaison Committee today that “the pay review bodies have been in existence for a long time, accepted by different political parties as a sensible part of the process”.
“In many cases, those pay settlements were more than what the government had originally thought was doable and indeed higher in many cases than they were in the private sector,” he said.
“I think they are an important part of the process and the government is respecting that.
“I don’t think I do want to see a reform to it … they’re balancing what’s affordable for the taxpayer, ultimately all these things have to be paid for, with the need to make sure we can recruit and retain staff in the various sectors in the various sectors in which they’re operating.”
Sunak also warned of the potential inflationary impact of giving big pay increases to public sector workers.
“I’ve acknowledged that it is difficult for everyone because inflation is where it is and the best way to help them and to help everyone else in the country is for us to get a grip and reduce inflation as quickly as possible,” he said.
“And we need to make sure that the decisions that we make can bring about that outcome.”
Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB trade union, today said ministers needed to bring forward a fresh offer that “we can take back to our members”, instead of “hiding behind” independent recommendations.
“We believe that what we actually need to see is true reform of the Pay Review Board process where the remit given doesn’t tie the PRB’s hands into existing budgets that have already been set. We’re asking the secretary of state to come to the table,” she said
The latest NHS strikes come as rail workers, posties, border force staff and bus drivers are also set to resume industrial activity this week.
The government has called in more than 1,000 military personnel to cover for some of the striking workers, including ambulance drivers.
Unions have said members of the army are not properly trained to carry out these kind of emergency roles.