There have been hopes for an NHS pay breakthrough and ministers are debating whether an extra increase for three months could end the dispute.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, also agreed to consider making a one-time “living cost” payment to staff after talks with union bosses on Monday. So far, the two sides have been in contention, with ministers refusing to discuss the current pay round.
Over the weekend, the health secretary’s stance softened, suggesting NHS workers could see significant pay increases in the next financial year starting in April if they agree to changes to working practices to boost productivity.
The talks on Monday raised the prospect that a possible increase could be applied to the last quarter of the current financial year, as well as to the 2023/24 season. A source close to Mr Barclay said he had agreed to consider both the idea and proposals for a one-off payment.
On Monday evening, unions said they had made “significant progress” but added they would not call off the ambulance strikes scheduled for Wednesday without a concrete offer. Nurse leaders said the government had “a long way to go” to avoid a two-day strike planned by nurses next week.
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, who represents ambulance workers, said the talks had produced “significant progress”. But she added: “Ministers know that unless they come up with hard cash for a pay raise for what is left over from the current financial year, there can be no resolution to the dispute.”
Rachel Harrison, national secretary at the GMB, which also represents ambulance workers, said a “concrete” offer was needed to stop strikes.
Joanne Galbraith-Marten, director of industrial relations and legal services at the Royal College of Nursing, described the meeting as “bitterly disappointing” and warned that “ministers have a distance to go to prevent next week’s nurses’ strike”.
Meanwhile, Unite, which represents ambulance workers, said it was “outrageous” for ministers to demand an increase in capacity.
In meetings with trade unions, Barclay referred to estimates that inflation would remain at 5.5% in the coming fiscal year. Ministers argued that while they were ready to discuss a more generous wage deal for 2022/23, they did not want to take any steps that would fuel inflation.
For the second day in a row, Rishi Sunak has refused to rule out increased financial support for striking NHS workers in the current financial year.
Teachers’ unions said ministers had failed to lessen the threat of industrial action after walking away from talks without the promise of extra pay.
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, urged unions to consider the impact of school closures on children, saying “the stakes of the strike have never been higher as children have lost out over two years of the pandemic, which has had an impact on learning and mental health,” the source said. at the meeting.
However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “So far, nothing is stopping us from taking industrial action as we believe these meetings are only taking place because of the threat of industrial action.”
The ministers agreed to talks on salaries for the next financial year. However, unions are demanding wage increases above inflation this fiscal year, which saw teachers get a pay rise of five percent, or 8.9 percent for new teachers.
Three trade union ballots will be closed this week. Courtney said if all of these unions voted to strike then the “vast majority” of schools in England and Wales were at risk of closing.
A new bill introducing minimum service requirements during strikes for around half a dozen key sectors will be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. If passed, it will give ministers the legal power to require some ambulances, fire engines, trains and schools to operate during industrial action.