Trade union brands talks with Health Secretary an ‘insult’ amid pay dispute

Earlier Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was ‘happy to talk about pay’ with unions as ministers held a series of meetings.

09 January 2023

Talks between the Government and trade unions on NHS workers’ pay have been described as an “insult”, in a blow to hopes of any progress towards a deal between ministers and staff.

Earlier Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “happy to talk about pay” with unions, as ministers held a series of meetings aimed at ending a wave of industrial unrest in the NHS and on the rail network.

But Unite said any suggestion that a one-off pay reward could be made in exchange for a boost in productivity was “absolutely ludicrous”.

Unite negotiator Onay Kasab said the Government told the union they would need to “justify” a payment through productivity, calling the talks an “insult”.

Strikes graphic
(PA Graphics)

This isn’t a factory we’re talking about, we’re talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done because they care so much.

“So for the Government to be talking about productivity in exchange for a (payment) is an insult to every single one of our members.”

Mr Sunak had earlier not denied suggestions the Government was considering a one-off payment to help NHS staff deal with the soaring cost of living, but said any pay settlement would have to be affordable and not further increase inflation.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay had been meeting health unions on Monday, including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which put the chance of strikes being called off at less than 50%.

Strikes graphic
(PA Graphics)

Teaching unions were holding talks with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan ahead of announcements this week over whether their members will go on strike.

And rail minister Huw Merriman called in train workers after sustained action crippled services, with only one in five trains running between Tuesday and Saturday.

Mr Kasab said: “I emphasise the thing to get out of today that is absolutely clear is that they want our members to give more in order for it to consider a payment. That is absolutely outrageous.”

He said there had been no “detailed” discussion of what a pay settlement might look like, adding that the talks had left him “very angry”.

He added: “The Government have missed yet another opportunity. We came here in good faith.”

Setting out the Government’s position earlier, Mr Sunak was asked whether a one-off payment was on the table to resolve the dispute.

The Prime Minister did not deny it, but said he would not comment on “specifics”.

Asked if such a measure would be limited to nurses, the Prime Minister sidestepped the question, telling reporters: “I’m really pleased that union leaders accepted ministers’ invitations to come in today to have discussions across the board and that’s a really positive development.

“And on pay, we’ve always said that the Government is happy to talk about pay demands and pay issues that are anchored in what’s reasonable, what’s responsible, what’s affordable for the country.

“But the most important thing is those talks are happening and let’s try and sit down and find a way through.”

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