After weeks of refusing to speak to public sector unions about pay, the government has now agreed to have "intensive" talks (only) with the RCN nurses’ leader, Pat Cullen. She, by the way, says she is absolutely fine with this - while explaining how she is not prepared to negotiate “in public”...
One might ask, in passing, why not in public, since the NHS is (apparently!) “public” and the majority of the “public” is right behind the nurses and the rest of the NHS staff on strike.
Yes, and why not in front of the same “heroic” staff - “her” union members - who worked tirelessly through the deathly chaos which the under-invested and crumbling NHS was thrust into by the government’s mismanagement of the Covid pandemic?!
Anyway, these latest “talks” do not mean that the government is backing down. Ministers say that union leaders must suspend strikes first, if they want officials to negotiate with them... So for now, the 48-hour nurses' strike planned for 1 March has been called off. And the teachers’ union has been told by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan that there will be no talks unless it too, suspends strikes called for 2, 15 and 16 March.
But what's on offer? Newspapers reported that Sunak was "exploring" a 5% pay rise for public sector workers, which of course is well below inflation, still running at 10.1% (CPI) and 13.4% (RPI), respectively. This, when nurses’ real pay has fallen by 20% since 2010 and teachers’ real pay has fallen by 23%! As for junior doctors, their real pay has fallen by over 25% since 2008! No wonder 98% of them voted to strike, on a 77.5% turnout!
The government's decision to engage in talks - perhaps conveniently - has coincided with the news that public sector finances showed a “surprise” surplus of £5.4bn, as opposed to an expected deficit of £7.8bn... Of course, much more is needed to pay workers and to improve services. But it can easily be found - for instance in the pockets of the likes of BP, Shell and Centrica, who have all just registered huge, unprecedented, super-profits...
Instead, Sunak and Hunt still speak - outrageously - about a “closed treasury purse” claiming that any increase in pay for nurses and ambulance workers has to mean a cut in the funds going to patient care! Yes, when the money is clearly there - in its billions! However, to get hold of it, workers have always had only one effective weapon – the strike! And the more general it is, the better.