A wave of industrial action across the country will go ahead as planned after ministers insisted they will not intervene to increase the pay offers being made to public sector workers.
The Royal College of Nursing had offered to call off industrial action by 100,000 of their members later this week if health secretary Steve Barclay agreed to meet them for talks on improving the 4.5% award currently on the table.
Although a meeting between Barclay and the RCN is due to take place today, government sources told HuffPost UK their policy on pay was “unchanged”, meaning no new offer will be forthcoming.
Remarkably, today is the last strike-free day for the rest of the year, as railway workers, Royal Mail employees, border force workers, driving examiners, teachers, ambulance and bus drivers join nurses in taking industrial action.
Labour has accused the government of failing to intervene to help negotiate agreements which could at least see some of the strikes called off.
But the prime minister’s official spokesperson today insisted there would be no shift in the government’s stance.
He said: “The position on pay has not changed, that’s rightly for an independent review body to decide.”
By contrast, NHS unions in Scotland today called off planned strike action after accepting a 7.5% pay offer.
Former Tory minister Lord Baker today urged the UK government to help broker a compromise in England and Wales which would see the pay offer to public sector workers increased to around 6% or 7% to match wage rises in the private sector.
He told Times Radio: “Protracted strikes in the public sector are going to hurt a lot of people one way or another, and reduce the services available.”
The government’s emergency Cobra committee is meeting this afternoon to discuss how to cope with the disruption caused by the strikes.
It has already been confirmed that the military will be called in drive ambulances and help process people at the border to help minimise the problems caused by the strikes.
Trade union umbrella body the TUC warned that the strikes will continue well into next year unless the government changes tack.
Frances O’Grady, the group’s general secretary, said: “For too long, ministers have been stonewalling negotiations and hiding behind pay review bodies. They are more interested in playing political football with disputes than resolving them.
“Unions stand ready to meet and find a solution. But the Conservatives must stop sabotaging efforts to reach settlements. If we see more industrial action, it is because of their intransigence. Instead the government must come to the table and negotiate.”
Meanwhile, the RMT union confirmed that a rail strike from Christmas Eve until December 27 will go ahead after their members rejected a fresh pay offer from their employers.
Mick Lynch, the union’s general secretary, said: “The government is refusing to lift a finger to prevent these strikes and it is clear they want to make effective strike action illegal in Britain.
“We will resist that and our members, along with the entire trade union movement will continue their campaign for a square deal for workers, decent pay increases and good working conditions.”