UK PM Sunak seeks ‘constructive’ talks with unions amid new anti-strike law

LONDON, JANUARY 6: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media as he visits the Harris Academy in Battersea.

Henry Nicholls – WPA Pool/Getty Images

LONDON – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to meet union leaders this week for what he hopes will be “constructive” talks as he seeks to block industrial action. nationwide, even as his government prepares controversial anti-strike legislation.

Tens of thousands of workers have left in industries in recent months to demand better working conditions and inflation-matched wage increases, currently in double digits in the UK

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Sunak told reporters during a visit to a London school on Friday that he was looking for an “honest, mature conversation with union leaders about what is responsible, what is appropriate.” and what is affordable for our country when it comes to paying,” according to Reuters.

His comments came just a day after his government announced new anti-strike law in an effort to “enforce minimum service levels” across critical public services, including the National Health Service, schools, rail networks, nuclear operations, and fire services.

The bill, which Sunak’s government plans to introduce to Parliament in the next few weeks, will allow bosses to sue unions for disruption and fire employees who engage in industrial activity.

Full details of the plan could be released as soon as Thursday, according to The Times, but the initial announcement was met with outrage from union leaders.

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has taken the first strike action in its 106-year history in recent weeks, has called the action “undemocratic”, while the secretary general of the Fire Federation (FBU) said the entire trade union movement would “counter this dangerous attack on workers in every way possible.”

Over the weekend, Sunak softened further on the nurses’ strikes, telling the BBC he was open to negotiating a new “responsible” and “affordable” pay deal. with further strikes at NHS workplaces across the UK scheduled for January 18 and 19.

On the same BBC programme, RCN Secretary General Pat Cullen called Sunak’s change an “optimism” and urged the prime minister to meet her “midway”.

Negotiations between the government and union leaders are scheduled for Monday, but Unite, one of the country’s largest unions, also represents NHS members including ambulance workers. , accused Sunak of “deceiving the British public” about salary negotiations.

Solidarity Secretary General Sharon Graham, in a statement on Sunday, reiterated that no progress has been made on the upcoming NHS salary review (2023/4) while the current 2022 NHS payment claim remains open. unsolved.

“I have repeatedly called on the prime minister to come to the negotiating table on this matter. All the secretaries-general representing NHS staff are ready to negotiate with him at any time,” Graham said.

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“But this Monday meeting has been misrepresented on almost every level. It’s not a negotiation, it’s not related to current NHS pay and it’s not with the prime minister.”

Graham added that unless Sunak “accepts the need to make real progress on the current pay claim, there will still be strikes across the NHS this winter.”

A total of 2,600 Unite paramedics will go on strike on January 23 with further actions in Wales on January 19.

The NHS is facing an unprecedented crisis, with hospitals overflowing, patients lying in corridors and ambulances queuing outside emergency departments unable to transfer patients or respond to emergency services. new call. Medical trusts and ambulance services around the country have declared “serious incidents” in recent weeks as services have been overwhelmed.

Sunak held an emergency meeting with health leaders over the weekend and told them “bold and radical” action was needed to guide the NHS through the crisis.

The national rail network has also been severely disrupted by strikes over the past four weeks, with the most recent 48-hour strike by members of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Workers union. download leads to only about one in five trains across the UK run on Saturday.


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