Unions accuse ministers of stonewalling requests for meaningful pay talks as strikes escalate

Union bosses have accused ministers of stonewalling requests for meaningful pay talks, as more sectors threaten to strike during the Christmas period.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and Unison General Secretary Christina McAnea have claimed ministers are refusing to negotiate in good faith.

In a joint letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, they insisted that no public sector workers want to take strike action this winter.

Their letter adds: “They are committed public servants who take great pride in their jobs and the communities they serve. But the government has left them with no choice.

“Good industrial relations require both parties to be willing to negotiate in good faith and to have open conversations.”

On Wednesday, Border Force workers announced strikes would take place between 23 and 26 December as well as 28 and 31 December – jeopardising Christmas travel.

The walkouts will affect Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester airports, as well as the Port of Newhaven.

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Winter strikes have already been announced by train, bus and road workers – with postal workers, teachers, nurses, and ambulance workers also taking action over pay and conditions.

Read more: Families face stark choices after a year of the cost of living crisis

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‘I’ve had to disconnect my gas’

‘Ignoring the main issue isn’t a negotiation’

The letter to Mr Hunt said: “When your cabinet colleagues have met unions, they have repeatedly refused to talk about public sector pay.

“Ignoring the main issue on the table isn’t a negotiation.”

It said the government could not continue to “hide behind” pay review bodies, adding: “If ministers genuinely want to resolve these disputes, they must address what’s causing them.

“With CPI inflation over 11% and RPI inflation above 14%, frontline workers are facing another massive real-terms hit to their wages.”

The two union officials called for an urgent meeting with the chancellor, saying: “Now is not the time for smoke and mirrors – now is the time for genuine negotiations.”

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‘We did our bit’ – Transport sec on rail strikes

Sunak mulls ‘tough’ new anti-strike laws

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that he had been “reasonable” in responding to public sector pay demands.

But he warned during Prime Minister’s Questions: “If the union leaders continue to be unreasonable, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public.

“That’s why since I became prime minister I have been working for new tough laws to protect people from this disruption.”

He faces a fight with unions over the laws, which could include minimum service levels and a ban on emergency services striking.

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Union: ‘Our members use food banks’

These are unlikely to be in place before the winter strikes, although a spokesperson for the PM said they would be brought in “as swiftly as possible”.

The new legislation Mr Sunak appeared to be referring to – the Minimum Service Levels Bill – is currently stalled in parliament and MPs have not begun debating it.

Labour vowed to oppose the laws, and Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, said her members “are ready industrially and financially” to challenge any new measures.

Read more:
Strikes every day before Christmas – which sectors are affected and why

Rail strikes: Your refund rights explained if your travel is disrupted

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‘They shouldn’t inconvenience people’

Offshore oil workers join list of strikers

Meanwhile, about 146 offshore oil workers have started two days of strike action at the Petrofac Repsol installation in the North Sea.

Their dispute with Petrofac relates to payments, below inflationary pay increases, medicals, mileage and stand-in duties.

Seventy-six members have also started a strike in complaint at the working rotation at Petrofac’s BP installations.

Unite industrial officer John Boland said: “The workers involved in these disputes are resolute in their determination to continue with ongoing action until their claims are met.

“Petrofac cannot only afford to pay up and settle this dispute, they should do so now in order that workers on these installations can get on with the job.”

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