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UK unions left disappointed after pay talks with govt

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Union leaders said the separate discussions with transport, health and education ministers had offered little progress./AFP
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Jan 10, 2023 - 09:44 AM

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — UK trade unions branded talks Monday with the government to discuss pay rise demands across the public and private sector “disappointing”, as workers prepare to stage the latest in months of damaging strikes.

The talks were convened at the urging of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and are perceived as a shift in strategy after ministers previously minimised their involvement in the months-long disputes.

But union leaders said the separate discussions with transport, health and education ministers had offered little progress in resolving the standoffs, two days before ambulance workers in England and Wales walk out again.

Others set to stage stoppages this week include some civil servants, some transport staff in parts of London and some secondary school employees. Last week saw the latest in a series of highly disruptive strikes by railway workers.

They come as the UK suffers from decades-high inflation amid stagnant economic growth, prompting calls for big salary hikes as the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation bites.

“There is no resolution to our dispute yet in sight,” Joanne Galbraith-Marten of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said following talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

The union has organised unprecedented walkouts by nurses in recent weeks — the first in its 106-year history.

“Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing — nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already set’ for next year,” Galbraith-Marten added on agreeing new salary rates.

‘No change’ 

Kevin Courtney, of the National Education Union, said the education secretary had offered further discussions during their talks, but that there had been “no offer” and “no change”.

“There’s no sense of concrete progress,” he told UK media afterwards.

Meanwhile Mick Lynch, who leads the main RMT rail workers’ union, declined to say whether any progress had been made following their meeting with rail ministers.

“We’re just going to have further talks with them,” he told reporters as he left the department some 75 minutes after arriving.

Ahead of Monday’s talks, Sunak welcomed the direct dialogues and said his government was willing to discuss pay demands that were “reasonable” and “affordable”.

But he has remained vague on whether that would only apply to future salaries or if changes can be made to current pay deals.

“The most important thing is that the conversations are happening, that people are talking,” he told British broadcasters during a visit to a health facility in northern England.

“People need to get talking, that’s what they’re doing and hopefully we can find a way through this.”

However, his government is also planning to introduce legislation requiring minimum service levels in areas such as the railways and in hospitals during strikes, which has angered the unions.

Sunak’s spokesman told reporters Monday that the draft law would be tabled in parliament “in the coming days”.

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