Rishi Sunak invites striking union leaders for 'grown-up, honest' talks as Government seeks to end winter strikes

6 January 2023, 18:16 | Updated: 6 January 2023, 19:39

Rishi Sunak has invited all striking union leaders for “grown-up, honest” talks on Monday as the Government seeks to end the wave of industrial action.
Rishi Sunak has invited all striking union leaders for “grown-up, honest” talks on Monday as the Government seeks to end the wave of industrial action. Picture: Getty

By Chris Samuel

Rishi Sunak has invited striking union leaders for “grown-up, honest” talks on Monday as the Government seeks to end the wave of industrial action.

Pressed on whether the talks could include discussions on be this year’s pay during a visit to a school in Battersea, West London today, Mr Sunak said: “What we’ve 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.

“We think those conversations should happen. That’s why we’ve invited everyone in to have those talks on Monday and I’m hopeful that those talks can be constructive and we can find a way through this.”

The PM said: “Yesterday the Government wrote to all union leaders inviting them in for talks on Monday.”

Asked whether the Government could meet the demands of the nursing union “halfway” after it suggested a 10 percent pay increase rather than almost double, he added: “We have always been clear that we want to have a grown-up, honest conversation, a two way conversation with union leaders.”

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The deadlock between striking unions and the Government has escalated after the Government proposed new anti-strike legislation under which employers would be able to sack workers and sue unions who take industrial action.

Mr Sunak didn't rule out people losing their jobs for not going to work during strike action under the proposed new legislation.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media as he visits Harris Academy in Battersea on January 6, 2023 in London, England.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media as he visits Harris Academy in Battersea on January 6, 2023 in London, England. Picture: Getty

Asked for a second time whether workers could be dismissed for not going to work under the plans, Mr Sunak said: "I fully believe in the unions' role in our society and the freedom for them to strike.

"I also believe that that should be balanced with the right of ordinary working people to go about their lives free from significant disruption.

"That's why we're going to bring forward new laws, in common with countries like France, Italy, Spain and others, that ensure that we have minimum levels of safety in critical areas like fire, like ambulance, so that even when strikes are going on you know that your health will be protected.

"I think that's entirely reasonable and that's what our new laws will do."

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said yesterday she could meet the Government 'halfway' from the union's 19 percent demand, which the government has rejected.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said yesterday she could meet the Government 'halfway' from the union's 19 percent demand, which the government has rejected. Picture: Getty

Speaking from the BBC from the picket line at London's Euston station, Mick Lynch said of legislation, which aims to minimise disruption during strikes: "What this is a symbol of is that the government are losing the argument.

He said: “They want to close that argument down by closing down the unions and stopping us from campaigning against poverty."

Mr Lynch said the proposed legislation was a threat to fire union members who refuse to work.

"They are going to conscript our members,” he said.

"We have to name who will go to work, and if those members in a lawful manner don't want to cross our picket line they can be dismissed individually and the union can be fined.

"So we will have to see what the law says."

Mick Lynch said the proposed legislation was a symbol that the government are losing the argument.
Mick Lynch said the proposed legislation was a symbol that the government are losing the argument. Picture: Getty

Labour said it would repeal the planned anti-strike laws if they are passed before the General Election, and if it wins the vote, which is expected in 2024.

Mr Sunak added: "I think everyone agrees that the most pressing economic priority we have is reducing the cost of living and getting a grip of inflation is the best way we can do that to ease the cost of living, not only for nurses, but for everyone.

"That's why earlier this week 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."

Downing Street sources said the Prime Minister was referring to the pay review for the 2023-24 financial year, The i reported.

Britain is facing a wave of industrial action including by nurses, postal workers, civil servants, rail workers, paramedics, and border staff.

Unions are seeking considerable pay rises this year so as to avoid real wages taking a major hit due to high inflation.

But so far the Government has largely refused union demands, arguing that large increases in pay will fuel inflation and aren't unaffordable.

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