Ministers are holding a series of talks with union bosses to prevent strikes

Ministers will hold a series of meetings with union leaders in an effort to prevent future strikes over pay in the NHS, classrooms and tracks.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay will meet leaders including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Monday amid cautious optimism that the government might soften its stance.

Teachers’ unions will take part in talks with education secretary Gillian Keegan before announcing this week whether their members will go on strike.

Rail Minister Huw Merriman is also holding talks with train workers on Monday after the prolonged operation of paralyzed services, with only one in five trains running from Tuesday to Saturday.

Rishi Sunak raised hopes on Sunday by saying he was willing to discuss pay with health workers, although this is unlikely to prevent strikes if the current pay deal is not renegotiated.

Downing Street has refused to dismiss suggestions the prime minister is open to a one-off payment to support health workers with living costs this winter.

Mr Barclay is believed to have favored the move, but the proposal was met with opposition from other parts of the government.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said she felt “a bit of optimism” after noticing a “small change” in the prime minister’s attitude.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak performing Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

However, she warned that the planned action would continue without compromise on this year’s payroll, as the Unite union accused Mr Sunak of “misleading” the public about the negotiations.

Labor accused him of “taking our nurses and ambulance staff for fools” and Monday’s talks with unions were set to focus on the 2023/24 deal.

Mr Sunak told the BBC on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “In terms of pay, we’ve always said we want to talk about things that are reasonable, affordable and responsible for the country.

“We are going to start a new round of wage settlement for this year, we will be starting this independent process soon and by the time this process starts the government wants to sit down with the unions and talk about wages and make sure they understand where we are coming from.”

Ms Cullen said Monday’s talks “will not prevent a strike” in England on January 18 and 19 without a compromise on 2022/23 pay.

But she told Kuenssberg: “The prime minister was talking about coming to the table, now that’s a move for me because I said let’s meet halfway.”

She added: “As I listened to it, there was a hint of optimism and there was a slight change in what the prime minister was saying.”

Mr Barclay told The Sunday Telegraph he would take a “constructive approach” to negotiations on the April pay review, suggesting a raise was on the table if unions agreed to efficiency cuts to make higher wages more “affordable”.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, whose ambulance workers will leave again on January 23, warned that strikes would continue this year without a resolution to the current dispute.

“At best, Rishi Sunak is misleading the British public about so-called ‘NHS pay talks’,” she said.

“I reiterate that if and until it accepts the need to make real progress on the current pay claim, there will still be strikes in the NHS this winter.”

Unison will also take part in the talks, as will GMB, who described the talks scheduled for “only 45 minutes” as an “insult”.

The National Education Union (NEU), the union of NAHT school leaders and NASUWT will announce the results of the vote in the coming week.

Ms Keegan is holding talks on Monday, but NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted warned that they would not settle the wage talks dispute with a settlement in the coming year.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “After two years of interrupted education for young people, a strike is simply not a sensible solution.

“Union leaders were invited to meet ministers on Monday to have frank talks about what is responsible and what our country can afford in terms of wages.”

Scottish government officials and teachers’ unions will also hold final talks on Monday before parents are forced to keep their children at home later this week.

A passenger at London's Waterloo East railway station during a rail strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union in a long-running dispute over jobs and pensions

A passenger at London’s Waterloo East railway station during a rail strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union in a long-running dispute over jobs and pensions (PA)

In the rail dispute, union leaders will meet with Mr Merriman as they continue to urge the government to block a deal to end a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper denies the allegations, saying he is facilitating talks between unions and employers.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Today I want the government to stop playing a role because the truth, written in black and white in the rail contracts, is that it was in total control over this dispute from day one.

“Train operators cannot move without government approval.

“The minister cannot hide behind this fairy tale that he is only a facilitator.

“His government can end this dispute today by removing the conditions it put in place to torpedo the resolution and allow companies to make a deal.”

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