(LONDON) The conservative British government sought to quell growing social anger over a cost-of-living crisis by getting unions on Monday, unsuccessful in ending months of strikes demanding pay rises.
The discussions signal an openness to dialogue that contrasts with the more rigid tone adopted so far by the Conservative government. The latter announced legislation to establish a minimum service in the public sector to reduce the impact of strikes, infuriating unions.
“The first thing we need to do is to start debating properly,” Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted on the BBC on Sunday when asked about the government’s willingness to respond to union demands.
After several strikes over the summer, autumn, Christmas and last week, the urgency of the crisis is palpable as railway workers resolutely continue their social movement. Other walks are taking place in many sectors, including health, where the movement is very popular.
British Rail Secretary Huw Merriman welcomed “constructive” discussions after meeting representatives of the powerful transport union RMT, saying the RMT had not announced it would end its strike action.
Other unions bemoan the “false opportunity”: “It’s very clear that they [le gouvernement, NDLR] Our members have to pay more before studying [des revalorisations] Wages,” criticized United Union’s Onay Kassab.
The situation is particularly critical in health care, where nurses will go on strike for two days in January, after already walking off the job in December, the first time in more than 100 years.
The strikes will “absolutely” take place, said Mr. Kassab said he was “very angry” after meeting with British Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who the unionist said did not present any “comprehensive” plan to get out of the crisis.
The public health system, the NHS, has been stretched thin after years of funding and the COVID-19 pandemic, with patients waiting hours for ambulances or being treated in emergency rooms. Many hospitals have opened food banks to help their staff cope with inflation.
Doctors and hospital managers are calling for immediate action, with the government holding an emergency meeting on Saturday, after which the prime minister called for a “bold and serious” approach.
With the rate of inflation in the United Kingdom approaching 11%, nurses are demanding a substantial pay rise for the current year, which executives have deemed “unaffordable” for nurses until now. Public Finance.
The Unison union – one of the main unions for NHS staff – highlighted “progress”: “We were able to talk about pay”, Unison’s Sarah Gordon said after meeting the minister. But “we haven’t received the concrete concessions that we hope will allow us to call off the strikes later this week.”
A government spokesperson said on Monday that “the government is focusing on the ongoing process of salary hikes” for the coming financial year (2023-2024).
For Downing Street, the meetings with the unions allow him to “discuss what’s going on in person and listen to what the unions have to say”.
But other walkouts loom: We’ll know this week the outcome of teachers’ unions’ votes on future strikes at public institutions.
“We have made it clear to the government that it is time to seriously negotiate a better salary offer for this year,” replied Marie Marie Boustad of the teachers’ union NEU after meeting the education minister. Gillian Keegan.
“If not now, then never.”
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