Rishi Sunak in showdown with unions to break strikes

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The Prime Minister said he wants “grown-up, honest” talks after a damaging winter of industrial action. The UK is being hit by strikes across sectors such as rail workers, nurses, paramedics, postal workers, border staff and civil servants.

Unions are pushing for significant pay rises to avoid real wages suffering a major blow due to inflation soaring into double figures.

But the Government has so far largely refused to concede to their demands, arguing that big pay rises will fuel an inflation spiral and are unaffordable given the dire state of the public finances.

Mr Sunak said of Monday’s discussions: “What we have said is we want to have a grown-up, honest conversation with all union leaders.

“About what is responsible, what is reasonable and what is affordable for our country when it comes to pay. I’m hopeful that those talks can be constructive and we can find a way through this.”

The Royal College of Nursing has said it could “meet the Government halfway” in a pay deal.

General secretary Pat Cullen says the union is willing to compromise on its pay demand, which is currently 19 percent, and could be willing to go down to 10 percent.

Mr Sunak, who met secondary school students in Battersea, southwest London, yesterday, added: “Everyone agrees the most pressing economic priority is reducing the cost of living. Getting a grip of inflation is the best way we can do that.

That’s why I made five promises about what I wanted to do and that was to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am keen to have dialogue with Pat Cullen and the RCN.

“The RCN actually turned down an offer in Scotland which was 7.5 percent and significantly more than 10 percent if you looked at the other things within that package.

“The key thing is to look at the coming year, the pay review body will be looking at the pressure of the cost of living, of inflation, the scope for us to see how we make that more affordable by working together on issues of productivity, of efficiency.”

It comes as junior doctors in England announced they will strike for 72 hours in March if they vote in favour of industrial action. And Unite ambulance workers will strike on January 23 in their dispute over pay.

The ballot across England begins on Monday.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) urged Mr Barclay to meet with doctors to negotiate a solution.

It said he was the first Health Secretary for more than 50 years to “ignore” all invitations to meet with doctors to discuss their pay, making attempts to find a negotiated settlement “virtually impossible”.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, said: “The announcement that junior doctors could begin their action with a 72-hour full walkout in March, with no emergency cover if a ballot is ­successful, is deeply worrying.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of his key priorities, and that includes our hard-working junior doctors.”

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